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July 16, 2014
Open government advocates and congressional watchdogs, frustrated with what they decry as a culture of corruption on Capitol Hill, would like to see the House Ethics Committee take more aggressive action on cleaning up Congress.
But the panel’s chairman, K. Michael Conaway of Texas, says it’s not the Ethics Committee’s job to bring forward a more ethical House.
“The members themselves bring forth an ethical House,” Conaway told CQ Roll Call in a recent hallway interview. “The committee itself is just trying to do two things: one, offer up advice to help folks stay inside the white lines, and then when somebody doesn’t, deal with that.”
The Ethics Committee has been in the spotlight again recently, flip-flopping — under pressure — on a disclosure rule for privately-funded travel that the bipartisan panel had quietly dropped.
Government accountability groups, such as Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, said Congress needs more disclosure, not less.
But Conaway, who earlier this month defended the attempt to loosen disclosure rules, said the committee is not “in and of itself” responsible for producing a higher ethical standard. “The members are responsible for how ethical the House is, and, quite frankly, how ethical the House is perceived to be by the general public.”
The Texas Republican, who is widely expected to trade his Ethics gavel for the Agriculture chairmanship next Congress, said the legacy of the Ethics Committee under his guidance would be, “that we did the work well, and, for the most part, stayed out of the headlines.” Full story
July 15, 2014
Frank R. Wolf wants George Washington’s birthday celebrated on … well, his birthday.
Thanks to the Virginia Republican, a longtime admirer of the nation’s first president, the House Appropriations Committee approved an amendment to the Interior Department’s annual budget Tuesday instructing the agency to move the holiday for Washington’s birthday back to his actual birthday, Feb. 22.
The official celebration of George Washington’s birthday was moved to the third Monday in February in 1971 and has since come to be known as Presidents’ Day, even though the law was never changed to recognize other presidents.
Wolf’s amendment is supported by George Washington’s Mount Vernon Estate and a number of leading authors and historians, including David McCullough, Ron Chernow and Richard Bookhiser, but would have to be approved by the Senate and signed by the president.
It that happens, the change would take effect in 2017.
“Unfortunately, few Americans living today remember the legacy of President Washington and his contribution to this country,” Wolf said in a statement. “I believe Congress has unwittingly contributed to this lack of historical understanding by relegating Washington’s Birthday to the third Monday in February to take advantage of a three-day weekend. It is time to change the focus of the holiday from celebrating sales at the mall to celebrating the significance of President Washington’s birth and the birth of our nation.”
Wolf is retiring at the end of this term after serving 17 terms in Congress.
A short-term extension of highway funding easily passed the House in a 367-55 vote Tuesday, setting up a rare bipartisan cross-Dome deal that will likely avert a shutdown of construction projects around the country.
Neither side heralded the bill as a breakthrough in bipartisanship, but House Republican leaders scored a tactical victory by crafting a package that the White House endorsed, many Democrats voted for and that passed over the objections of conservative outside groups.
Only 10 Democrats and 45 Republicans voted against the patch. Full story
A curious line of reasoning emerged Tuesday as to why conservatives in Congress aren’t chomping at the bit to impeach a president that they believe has broken the law: There isn’t enough time.
At a monthly panel discussion with conservative lawmakers, members were asked if they would support impeaching President Barack Obama for selective enforcement of some laws and dramatic reinterpretations of others.
While a number of the lawmakers seemed to think impeachment was warranted, no one was offering to write up the proceedings.
“The president deserves to be impeached,” said Rep. Randy Weber, R-Texas. “Plain and simple.”
But, as Weber pointed out, it isn’t so simple.
“We’ve got so much on our plate that it’s not practical,” he said, noting that such an endeavor wouldn’t pass the Senate even though “he definitely deserves it.” Full story
House Minority Whip Steny H. Hoyer of Maryland predicted Democrats will overwhelmingly support a short-term highway trust fund bill on Tuesday, even though they would prefer a long-term fix with more solid pay-fors.
Hoyer said he will vote for the bill, which extends highway funding through May, but called the offsets used to pay for the bill “gimmicky.”
“I think there will be probably overwhelming support,” he said. “When you’re confronted at the end with, ‘You do this or we shut down,’ we’re not for shutting down. We think that the economy would be hurt, people would be hurt, jobs would be lost.” Full story
Updated 4:45 p.m. | House Republicans could, by the week’s end, unveil their legislative response to the president’s $3.7 billion request to bolster resources at the southwest border.
The response is likely to cost less and incorporate policy riders sure to rile up Democrats on the left — but still might not be stringent enough to satisfy members on the hard right.
Rep. Kay Granger of Texas, the chairwoman of a special GOP working group convened by Speaker John A. Boehner to make policy recommendations on the child migrant border surge, told reporters Tuesday her group is focused on increasing border security funding, adding National Guard troops on the border and having more immigration judges to preside over deportation hearings and asylum requests.
With a formal report not yet public at the time she spoke with the press, Granger also said the group supported tweaking a 2008 trafficking law to allow all unaccompanied minors apprehended at the border to choose to return to their home countries rather than await trial to be deported, a right currently afforded only to children from countries contiguous to the United States.
“Tweak it, not change it, not repeal it,” Granger stressed, “but to treat all children the same.” Full story
A new survey from a Democrat-associated polling firm has found that 51 percent of respondents say Speaker John A. Boehner’s lawsuit against the president is a “political stunt.”
Americans United for Change paid for the automated survey, conducted by Public Policy Polling, which asked 1,161 registered voters if the lawsuit was a “legitimate suit” or a “political stunt.” More than half the respondents said political stunt, while 41 percent said it was a legitimate suit. Eight percent of respondents said they weren’t sure. Full story
A spate of sudden firings at the House Homeland Security Committee last month adds to a pattern of extensive turnover that has left members and staffers questioning the panel’s leadership and its commitment to border security and counterterrorism policy.
A new staff director for Chairman Michael McCaul of Texas cleaned house at the committee, dismissing five top policy staffers on June 20, including his top advisers on border security and counterterrorism, both of whom McCaul hired less than two years ago. There have been at least five other staff departures since McCaul became chairman last year.
The brain drain comes a few months after McCaul hired Brendan Shields to reorganize the panel as staff director — and leaves the full committee without some of its most experienced policy aides against the backdrop of a crisis of Central American children illegally crossing the Southern border and instability in Iraq, Syria and the rest of the Middle East.
“I kind of wonder if Brendan Shields has turned on a television in the last six months or picked up a New York Times,” said a former government official, who was not among the fired staffers but knows people involved with the committee. “Is he not paying attention to what’s going on in Syria? In Libya? … Has he turned on CNN and seen the holding pens with thousands of children coming across the border?”
McCaul and his spokesman declined to comment, and an email sent to Shields on July 11 garnered an automatic reply noting he was out of the country, but expected to return Monday. Shields was in Brazil during the FIFA World Cup, according to sources.
Interviews with a dozen current and former staffers and members close to the committee revealed that members have been told that the reorganization is meant to empower the subcommittees and reduce redundancies and staff overlap to save money. Yet the firings are only one part of what has been a wider staff exodus from the committee over the last year.
July 14, 2014
Homeland Security Secretary Meets with Democrats on Supplemental, Changes to 2008 Human Trafficking Law
Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson met with moderate Democrats Monday night to discuss the immigration crisis on the Texas border. And while the lawmakers did not emerge united on President Barack Obama’s request for $3.7 billion in emergency funding or with an agreement on new legislation to expedite the return of Central American minors, Johnson called the discussions “productive.”
After the meeting, Johnson said the administration was committed to finding a response to the influx of children coming over the border that is ”humanitarian and consistent with our laws and our values.”
The first order of business, Johnson said, was approving the $3.7 billion supplemental funding request to address the situation — a request Johnson said Congress should ”scrutinize and review … carefully.” Full story
Updated 4:35 p.m. | The ranking Democrat on the House Administration Committee, Robert A. Brady, is demanding some oversight on Speaker John A. Boehner’s lawsuit against President Barack Obama.
Brady sent a letter to the Ohio Republican saying he expects Republicans to be “open and transparent” about how much money they use “in pursuing this highly dubious and partisan lawsuit.”
The Pennsylvania Democrat, as the ranking member of the House Administration Committee, seems to want some say over who handles the case, and he wants “normal oversight” on the contract.
Boehner is asking the House this month to approve filing a lawsuit against the president for not enforcing the employer mandate on the 2010 health care law.
Here is the full text of the Brady letter:
Dear Speaker Boehner:
Within the draft resolution to initiate a lawsuit against the President, we learned that you intend to seek authorization to “employ the services of outside counsel and other experts.” Such authority clearly falls under the jurisdiction of the Committee on House Administration, and as such, I am writing to express my expectation that Republicans will be open and transparent about the use of taxpayer money in pursuing this highly dubious and partisan lawsuit.
As evidenced by House Republicans’ conduct in the $2.3 million failed effort to defend the discriminatory and unconstitutional Defense of Marriage Act in the courts, strong bipartisan oversight is clearly necessary in any plan to hire outside counsel. The Republican majority must not be permitted to use taxpayer dollars as a slush fund to award a no-bid contract to high-priced, politically connected Republican lawyers without any transparency or accountability to the House or the American people.
Our opposition to the deeply partisan basis of your lawsuit in no way diminishes the need for normal oversight of the terms of any contract signed by Republican Leadership obligating the House to pay millions of dollars on private attorneys. Therefore, I expect you will honor regular order through my committee, even with this highly irregular lawsuit.
The American people deserve to know how and where their tax dollars are being spent, and House Administration Committee Democrats insist on regular consultation and transparency in the selection criteria and process, cost, and lobbying connections of any counsel or experts hired in the name of the House.
Ranking Member, House Administration Committee
Correction: An earlier version of this post reported, due to an editing error, that the House would consider the lawsuit this week. The vote is expected later this month.
The office of House Minority Whip Steny H. Hoyer, D-Md., announced Monday that Stephanie Young, Hoyer’s national press secretary, will be heading to the White House to serve as an associate communication’s director, prompting the promotion of Hoyer’s state press secretary, Mariel Saez, to be Young’s successor.
Tuesday will be Young’s last day as Hoyer’s national press secretary before moving to her new position at the White House. Young has already worked with President Barack Obama, first as the regional press secretary in Florida for Obama’s re-election campaign and again in 2013 as director of constituency press.
“Stephanie has done a tremendous job as my National Press Secretary,” Hoyer said in a statement on the new hire. “She has been a wonderful resource for the press and a key part of House Democrats’ messaging efforts, and I wish her all the best as she heads to the White House.”
Saez also boasts experience serving as Hoyer’s spokesperson on issues ranging from veteran affairs to immigration. A Maryland native from Hoyer’s district, Saez started out with the Maryland Democrat as an intern.
“I am pleased Mariel will be taking on this new role,” Hoyer said. “Her tireless work ethic, knowledge of the House, and experience with the press will continue to make her a valuable asset to me, the Democratic Caucus, and members of the media.”
Saez was brought onto Hoyer’s team in 2010 as a press assistant and researcher. She is a graduate of St. Mary’s College of Maryland — also in Hoyer’s district — where she earned a degree in economics.
Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson will meet with Blue Dog Democrats on Monday evening, sources confirmed to CQ Roll Call, as the Democratic Caucus writ large struggles to coalesce around a response to the surge of unaccompanied minors at the U.S.-Mexico border.
Johnson’s meeting on Capitol Hill with the fiscal conservative contingent of the House Democratic Caucus comes as one the coalition’s own, Rep. Henry Cuellar of Texas, prepares to offer controversial legislation that would make significant revisions to a 2008 trafficking law that Republicans are saying would help alleviate the border crisis. Full story
Under California Republican Darrell Issa, the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee has been the Obama administration’s No. 1 enemy on Capitol Hill, with high-profile hearings on everything from Benghazi to the IRS, to Operation Fast and Furious.
That kind of oversight is part of the committee’s job, according to Rep. Michael R. Turner, an Ohio Republican who is one of the leading candidates to succeed the term-limited Issa as chairman.
But the panel known on the Hill simply as “Oversight” also has the word “reform” in its title, Turner noted. And that aspect of the committee’s mission, he said, will be more of a focus if he takes over the chairmanship.
“I enjoy fixing things,” the six-term congressman said during a sit-down interview in his Rayburn office on July 10. And beyond government waste and inefficiency, one of the things he wants to fix is a committee that “can use some reform itself.” Full story
July 11, 2014
What was in Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart’s secret immigration overhaul bill, declared officially dead for the 113th Congress on Thursday afternoon?
Rep. Raúl M. Grijalva, D-Ariz., described it Friday as a bill of “low-hanging fruit on the immigration reform tree,” and said “it would have had support to pass.”
“The popularity, politically and internally, was very large,” Grijalva said in an interview with journalists from CQ Roll Call and The Washington Post during a taping of the C-SPAN “Newsmakers” program that will air Sunday. Full story
House Democrats are growing increasingly concerned about Republican calls to revise a 2008 human trafficking law in exchange for approving President Barack Obama’s $3.8 billion supplemental funding request to address the child migrant crisis at the Southwest border.
Liberals are doubling down on their efforts to fight for passage of what they call a “clean” supplemental, as some of their colleagues signal they are open to making concessions.
Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said at her weekly news conference Thursday that revisiting the 2008 trafficking law was “not a deal breaker” when it came to her vote on the funding request, with Obama having already said he was open to it, too.
But at a Friday immigration-focused news conference convened by the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, members directed their ire at fellow CHC colleague, Rep. Henry Cuellar. Full story