Roll Call: Latest News on Capitol Hill, Congress, Politics and Elections
October 31, 2014

May 30, 2014

Standing Down? Issa Drops Benghazi Subpoena for John Kerry

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Issa dropped his Benghazi subpoena for John Kerry. (CQ Roll Call File Photo/Bill Clark)

House Oversight Chairman Darrell Issa on Friday dropped his panel’s subpoena for a June 12 hearing with John Kerry to answer questions about Benghazi, clearing the way for the secretary of State to be questioned by the new House select committee headed by Rep. Trey Gowdy, R-S.C.

Issa, R-Calif., in a statement announcing the move, said he felt Democrats would use the Oversight and Government Reform hearing to “distract” from the efforts of the Gowdy panel, which has been charged by House Speaker John A. Boehner with getting to the “truth” of the Sept. 11, 2012, terror attack in Libya that killed four Americans.

“Seeing Secretary Kerry and others, who have worked to obstruct critical oversight of Congress’ investigations into Benghazi, attempt to use the upcoming June 12 hearing as a shield against the Select Committee tells me it’s time to reassess,” Issa said. “It’s been disappointing to watch a long serving former Senator, like Secretary Kerry, squirm his way to what I’m doing today — releasing him from the upcoming hearing commitment he made only after we issued him a subpoena.”

Kerry and the State Department have said if the secretary appeared before the Issa panel, there would be no need or inclination to appear before the select committee. Full story

May 29, 2014

Why House GOP Leaders Aren’t Calling for Shinseki’s Head (Video)

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(CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Republican leaders are trying to turn a Shinseki problem into an Obama problem.

Calls for Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki’s resignation seemed to reach a fever pitch Thursday, as several more House and Senate Democrats deserted the administration and called for the agency head’s ouster following the release of a scathing watchdog report.

Yet Speaker John A. Boehner of Ohio and Majority Leader Eric Cantor of Virginia remained restrained, careful to avoid any appearance of seeking a Cabinet secretary’s head as political trophy. Instead, the two Republican leaders chose to keep their public comments trained squarely on President Barack Obama.

Boehner has been hesitant to call for Shinseki to resign, although he did say last week he was getting closer. On Thursday, he came out swinging at Obama instead.

“The question I ask myself is, ‘Is [Shinseki] resigning going to get us to the bottom of the problem? Is it going to help us find out what’s really going on?’ And the answer I keep getting is, ‘no,’” Boehner told reporters Thursday. “The president is the one who should be held accountable.”

The leaders, according to aides, have made the calculation that feeding any public perception that Shinseki is to blame is ill-advised and shortsighted. Rather, putting the onus on Obama will have a more potent political and substantive effect in keeping the VA scandal at the fore.

Full story

Steve Israel Becomes First House Democratic Leader to Call for Shinseki’s Resignation

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DCCC Chairman Steve Israel of New York wants VA Secretary Shinseki’s resignation. (Tom Williams/Roll Call File Photo)

Rep. Steve Israel of New York is the first member of House Democratic leadership to call for the resignation of Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki.

The chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee made his sentiments public during a CNN interview Thursday afternoon.

Shortly thereafter, Israel released an email statement to CQ Roll Call explaining his rationale.

“If it will help fix the problem to clean house, then yes, he should resign,” Israel said, “but my main concern is getting the root of the problem here, and I want to make sure any steps taken actually lead to drastic improvements for our veterans.” Full story

Homeland Security Secretary Faces GOP Ire on Immigration

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Gutiérrez, left, shakes hands with Johnson before the start of the House Judiciary Committee hearing Thursday. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

At one point during an hours-long House Judiciary hearing on Thursday, Illinois Democrat Luis V. Gutiérrez called President Barack Obama’s recent decision to hold off on taking executive action to curb deportations a “grand gesture” of his willingness to give Republicans more time to advance immigration legislation on their own.

But the Republicans who gathered to hear testimony from Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson weren’t impressed by the administration’s olive branch. Instead, GOP lawmakers hammered Obama’s immigration point-man over what they see as ongoing efforts to supersede the legislative branch.

Johnson, whose agency has been tasked with compiling a list of possible executive actions Obama could take — with or without congressional approval — to create a more “humane” deportation policy, bore the brunt of Republican suspicions and frustrations.

Full story

Boehner, Pelosi Question Wisdom of Firing Shinseki (Video)

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Boehner said Thursday he’s not ready to call on Shinseki to resign.  (CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Speaker John A. Boehner, R-Ohio and Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., don’t find common ground on a lot of issues, but both lawmakers staked out similar positions Thursday on Eric Shinseki, rebuffing calls for the embattled Veterans Affairs secretary’s resignation.

Boehner said it’s premature to talk of firing Shinseki, who is under pressure from dozens of lawmakers to step down in the wake of new revelations of poor care at VA hospitals.

“The question I ask myself is, is him resigning going to get us to the bottom of the problem? Is it going to help us find out what’s really going on. And the answer I keep getting is ‘no,’” the speaker told reporters Thursday at his weekly briefing.

Pelosi echoed those comments at her news conference.

“They kept the information form the secretary and the Congress. So let’s reward them by removing the secretary?” Pelosi asked.

About two hours later, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., criticized the Obama administration’s handling of the crisis but stopped short of calling for Shinseki’s resignation.

“Veterans deserve more than the resignation of one man,” Cantor said in another briefing with reporters. “Accountability for this starts at the very top.”

The comments from the top party leaders in the House came one day after the VA inspector general’s release of a damning 35-page report that found 1,700 veterans were secretly waiting for a preliminary appointment at the Phoenix medical facility, and followed a high-profile VA hearing Wednesday night that further called into question the VA’s response to the scandal.

By Matt Fuller Posted at 1:17 p.m.

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

Wednesday Night VA Hearing Showcases Lawmakers’ Frustrations (Updated) (Video)

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Miller joined a growing chorus of members calling for Shinseki’s resignation. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Updated 8:10 p.m. | Calls for the resignation of Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric Shinseki grew louder on Capitol Hill Wednesday, as the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee attacked the VA for not being forthright with information and an internal audit revealed that problems at a veterans’ medical facility in Phoenix were more extensive than previously reported.

House Veterans’ Affairs Chairman Jeff Miller of Florida said the latest revelations, part of a preliminary inspector general report released Wednesday, raised concerns of criminal misconduct and have convinced him Shinseki should step down or be fired.

“Attorney General Eric Holder should launch a criminal investigation into VA’s widespread scheduling corruption and VA Secretary Eric Shinseki should resign immediately,” Miller said in a statement Wednesday.

On Wednesday night, the Veterans’ Affairs Committee held a hearing to receive testimony from the VA in response to subpoenas the panel put out earlier this month, and Miller didn’t hold back his criticism.

“I will not stand for a department coverup,” Miller said at the outset of the hearing.

The VA responded to the committee’s subpoena Tuesday night. But, Miller said that given the VA’s pattern of “stonewalling” committee requests, he was “not at all convinced” the VA had been forthright in responding to the subpoenas.

The Florida Republican said he knew the VA was withholding at least three documents, citing attorney-client privilege, and Miller hammered the three VA witnesses in a grand show of congressional drama after one witness revealed he had taken notes during an internal investigation of the Phoenix hospital but had not turned over those notes to the committee.

“Until VA understands that we’re deadly serious, you can expect us to be over your shoulder every single day,” Miller said.

At one point, Miller grew so angry over the witnesses’ responses that he stopped one answer by shouting, “Veterans died! Get us answers, please!”

Democrats on the panel also expressed frustration.

“Let me be clear: I am not happy,” said the committee’s ranking Democrat Michael H. Michaud of Maine.

Michaud said while he was not “completely satisfied” with the VA’s response to subpoenas, there did seem to be a recent shift in the VA’s cooperation with the investigation.

By Wednesday evening, after news of the new inspector general’s report had spread, at least 37 House members had called on Shinseki to resign, with 10 of those pleas coming from House Democrats.

In addition to the House criticism, 12 senators have now called on Shinseki to step down, including three Democrats. Among the Republicans calling for Shinseki’s head was Sen. John McCain, who had been holding back on calling for the former four-star general’s resignation.

Full story

By Matt Fuller Posted at 4:05 p.m.

Meet the Members of the Benghazi Committee

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(Chris Hale/CQ Roll Call Illustration)

Over the next few weeks, we’ll learn more about the new special House committee tasked with investigating the Obama administration’s response to the Sept. 11, 2012, attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya, that killed four people, including U.S. Ambassador to Libya J. Christopher Stevens. The election-year probe will command attention and keep the focus on both President Barack Obama and former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton as she considers a 2016 presidential bid.

Hang on to this handy chart, put together by reporter Daniel Newhauser, to keep track of the 12 lawmakers appointed by House leaders to serve on the panel, officially dubbed the House Select Committee on the Events Surrounding the 2012 Terrorist Attack in Benghazi.

South Carolina Republican Rep. Trey Gowdy serves as chairman, and Democrat Elijah E. Cummings of Maryland serves as the committee’s ranking member.

The committee Republicans are Lynn Westmoreland of Georgia, Jim Jordan of Ohio, Peter Roskam of Illinois, Mike Pompeo of Kansas, Martha Roby of Alabama and Susan W. Brooks of Indiana.

The committee Democrats are Adam Smith of Washington, Tammy Duckworth of Illinois and Adam B. Schiff and Linda T. Sánchez, both of California.

Full story

For Walorski, VA Scandal Is More Than Political: It’s Personal

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Walorski’s father, who died in 2007, was a veteran. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

Rep. Jackie Walorski had waited patiently for her turn at the far end the dais, the part reserved for freshmen like herself. But when her time came to question the witness, she could think of only one thing to say: “I’m so sorry.”

“If I could change your circumstance, I would. I would do it in a heartbeat,” she said, sniffling.

“My dad,” she hesitated, her voice trembling, “was a veteran.” The Indiana Republican paused again, sputtering — “that died of colon cancer.” She collected herself, shaking her head.

Walorski was speaking to Barry Coates, an Army veteran who has become the face of the Department of Veterans Affairs scandal involving excessive health care wait times. A potentially life-saving colonoscopy for Coates was put off for more than a year before doctors finally discovered a cancerous tumor with a terminal diagnosis, he told lawmakers on April 9. Full story

May 27, 2014

Cummings Says Issa’s ‘Going Rogue’ on Benghazi (Video)

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Cummings says Issa is “going rogue.” (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Rep. Darrell Issa’s decision to press on with his House panel’s Benghazi investigation, despite the creation of a new select committee to look into the 2012 terror attack in Libya, is an indication the California Republican is “going rogue,” a leading Democrat said Tuesday.

Rep. Elijah E. Cummings said that Issa, chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, is undermining the new special select committee created by Speaker John A. Boehner and chaired by Rep. Trey Gowdy, R-S.C.

“I think he is going rogue,” Issa, the ranking Democrat on the Oversight Committee, said in an appearance on MSNBC’s “Politics Nation” with Al Sharpton. “I actually believe that Chairman Issa is out of control, I really believe that.”

Full story

Isla Vista Shooting Prompts Consideration of Mental Health Bills

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Murphy is among the Republicans calling for action on mental health legislation after the shootings in California. (Bill Clark/Roll Call File Photo)

Mental health bills are getting a fresh look after the Isla Vista massacre, with lawmakers in both chambers and both parties pushing Congress to act.

In the aftermath of the killing spree blamed on Elliot Rodger, Democrats activated, issuing what seem like ritual news releases and tweets ripping Congress for failing to act on gun legislation, particularly in the wake of the 2012 massacre in Newtown, Conn.

But few expect Congress to resurrect a gun debate in the shadow of the midterm elections. Full story

By Steven Dennis and Emma Dumain Posted at 5:34 p.m.

Republicans Set Phoenix Hearing on EPA ‘Water Grab’

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Gosar is one of several congressmen calling new EPA rules a “water grab.” (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

The Obama administration’s move to expand regulatory control over the nation’s rivers and streams has some Republicans from the Southwest boiling mad, with a group of conservatives calling the EPA proposal a “water grab.”

Arizona Republicans David Schweikert, Paul Gosar and Matt Salmon, along with Texas Republican Lamar Smith, have set a hearing Monday in Phoenix to discuss the new rules, which critics contend would extend federal authority to small creeks, ditches and even dry washes on private land.

The Environmental Protection Agency and the Army Corps of Engineers have said the proposed changes to the Clean Water Act, announced March 25, are needed, in the wake of recent Supreme Court rulings, to clarify the definition of waterways that meet the standards for federal jurisdiction.

The new guidance would apply Clean Water Act laws to rain-dependent streams, wetlands near rivers and other areas with a “hydrologic” connection, and is designed to protect water quality and slow the destruction of the country’s wetlands.

Environmentalists have lauded the proposal, which is subject to public comment through mid-July, but Gosar and other Republicans have said the EPA is overreaching.

The EPA has no legal authority to expand the definition of navigable waters under the Clean Water Act, as the Supreme Court has repeatedly made clear,” Gosar said in a statement earlier this month. “Only Congress has such authority.” Full story

May 25, 2014

Elliot Rodger Sparks New Call for Mental Health Bill

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The case of Elliot Rodger sparked a renewed call for a mental health bill from Murphy. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Elliot Rodger — the man accused by police of committing a massacre Friday night in California — sparked a renewed call to pass a mental health bill in Congress.

“Our hearts break for the victims and families affected by the tragedy near Santa Barbara. We pray for their souls to find peace. But I am also angered because once again, our mental health system has failed and more families have been destroyed because Washington hasn’t had the courage to fix it,” said Rep. Tim Murphy, R-Pa.

“How many more people must lose their lives before we take action on addressing cases of serious mental illness?” Full story

By Steven Dennis Posted at 10:17 a.m.
Guns, Health Care

May 23, 2014

Veterans’ Affairs Chairman Proposes Private Option for Veterans Stuck on VA Wait Lists

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(Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

Veterans’ Affairs Chairman Jeff Miller wants veterans stuck on VA waiting lists to get health care for more than 30 days to have the option of getting private health care.

In a letter to Eric Shinseki, the Florida Republican urged the Veterans Affairs secretary to offer private care to any veteran waiting more than 30 days, and plans to offer legislation codifying the practice.

“Mr. Secretary, the accusations currently facing the Department — which increase in volume and gravity by the hour — have understandably led to a crisis of confidence on the part of many of our veterans who no longer feel that VA is willing and able to provide them with the timely care they have earned and deserved,” Miller wrote in a one-page letter to Shinseki on Thursday.

The Florida Republican said while he hopes Shinseki acts accordingly, “I cannot be satisfied with a short-term fix.” Full story

Kerry to Testify June 12 Before Oversight Committee — but Not Benghazi Panel (Updated)

Updated 3:58 p.m. | Secretary of State John Kerry will testify June 12 before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee — but, the State Department says he won’t be going before the new special select committee on Benghazi.

In a letter to Oversight and Government Reform Chairman Darrell Issa, the State Department said Kerry is open to testifying about Benghazi in June.

Earlier this month, the Oversight Committee subpoenaed Kerry to testify on May 29. Due to diplomatic responsibilities, the State Department said Kerry was unavailable for that date, but said he could testify on June 12 or June 20.

Issa agreed to June 12 Friday, spokesman Frederick Hill said in a statement.

Because Kerry has agreed to testify before the Oversight panel, the State Department said there is no need for him to testify before the Benghazi committee. Full story

By Matt Fuller Posted at 2:03 p.m.

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