Roll Call: Latest News on Capitol Hill, Congress, Politics and Elections
December 21, 2014

December 7, 2014

Democrats Irrelevant? Don’t Be So Sure, Pelosi Promises

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Pelosi points to a vote card depicting the House Democrats who voted to reopen the government in 2013. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

Nancy Pelosi insists she doesn’t gloat when House Republicans can’t shore up the votes among their own members to pass any number of critical bills, and it’s Democrats who get to swoop in and call themselves the heroes.

“I would rather they did the responsible thing so we wouldn’t have to bail them out every time,” the California Democrat quipped of her GOP counterparts.

But the minority leader, who sat for an interview in her Capitol Hill office with CQ Roll Call, must be feeling gratified.

The government is on the precipice of a shutdown, and if Republicans can’t get to 218 votes on their side of the aisle, Pelosi will get to call in the cavalry once again.

It would be the second time in a matter of weeks that she’s gotten to flex her muscle: She successfully squelched a pre-Thanksgiving deal on a tax extenders package negotiated exclusively by Senate Democrats and House Republicans — a deal that would have been a nonstarter for her caucus and President Barack Obama.

Full story

December 5, 2014

Incoming CHC Chairman Wants Role for ‘Fresher’ Faces

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Sánchez wants to elevate “fresher” voices. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Rep. Linda T. Sánchez believes House Democrats should get newer members more involved in leadership, or at least showcase “fresher” faces.

Sánchez told CQ Roll Call during an interview taped for C-SPAN’s “Newsmakers” that she has ”been thinking a lot” about addressing agitation among younger members of the rank and file as she approaches her role as the incoming chairman of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus.

“I know some of the frustrations of being a newer, younger member and really wanting to get involved in some of these meaty issues,” said Sánchez, who is entering her seventh term in Congress. “There are ways in which you can include younger and newer members — reaching out to them and inviting them to participate in ways that the old seniority-only system doesn’t allow them much input or impact.”

Her goal at CHC will be to harness their passion and energy by letting them be “front-and-center on some of these issues that normally they’re not given an opportunity to speak on” at press events or local efforts.

Full story

Pelosi Warns GOP: Tread Carefully With ‘Cromnibus’ (Video)

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Pelosi warns GOP on spending bill riders. (Photo By Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi is still keeping her powder dry when it comes to staking out a position on the House GOP’s fiscal 2015 spending bill, due to be revealed on Monday.

The California Democrat said no policy riders currently on the negotiating table were “deal breakers” on their own.

“Let’s look at the full package,” she said.

But the riders currently being discussed, she said, were cause for concern among members of her caucus.

If she made one thing clear at her weekly press conference on Friday, it was this: If Republicans want and need Democrats’ help in shoring up the votes on the so-called “cromnibus” to avert a government shutdown on Dec. 11, the GOP is going to have to make some compromises.

“We have extended the hand of friendship once again to say, ‘Let us help,’” Pelosi said of Democrats’ outreach to Republican leaders. ”We haven’t heard back. We haven’t seen the bill. But there are some very destructive riders in it that would be unacceptable to us and unacceptable to the American people.” Full story

December 4, 2014

House GOP Votes to Undermine Obama Executive Immigration Orders

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Yoho’s bill is considered, even by some supporters, as a symbolic rebuke of the president’s immigration order,  (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

House Republicans pushed through a bill Thursday to disapprove of President Barack Obama’s executive orders on immigration.

The measure, introduced by Florida Republican Rep. Ted Yoho, passed largely along party lines, 219-197.

All but three Democrats voted “no,” predictably slamming the GOP for reserving floor time for another bill they called anti-immigrant.

Three of Obama’s biggest GOP critics — Reps. Steve King of Iowa, Raul R. Labrador of Idaho and Paul Gosar of Arizona — voted “present.”

They were sending a message: They would have wholeheartedly endorsed the legislation under ordinary circumstances, except in this case they believed the bill was brought to the floor only to pacify lawmakers like themselves, who don’t want to vote to fund the government past Dec. 11, when current federal spending expires, unless it includes a policy rider explicitly defunding the immigration policy changes.

“I believe in the principle; I also want to make sure this isn’t a cover,” Gosar said after the vote.

“The language is okay,” Labrador explained in a separate interview, “but as a standalone bill, it was a meaningless action.”

Full story

By Emma Dumain Posted at 2:49 p.m.

Boehner Suggests He Won’t Cave to Conservatives on ‘Cromnibus’ (Video)

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Boehner . (Photo By Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

As conservatives push back against a bill to fund the government past Dec. 11, Speaker John A. Boehner signaled Thursday that he didn’t expect to make any sizable changes to the so-called “cromnibus” in order to placate voices to the right.

“I expect that we’ll have bipartisan support to pass the omnibus,” Boehner told reporters Thursday, in response to a question on whether the Ohio Republican anticipated needing some Democratic votes to pass the bill, and whether that would give Democrats leverage on negotiating riders in the appropriations bill.

Conservatives are bashing the cromnibus — which would fund all elements of government until October except the Department of Homeland Security, which would be funded until March or February — because it does not block President Barack Obama’s executive action on immigration.

Full story

December 3, 2014

Members Offer Rare Display of Emotion With ABLE Act

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Passing the ABLE Act represents a legislative highpoint for Crenshaw. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

There are many votes members of Congress cast that mean absolutely nothing. Procedural motions. Uncontroversial bills and amendments that are forgotten as soon as they are voted on.

Then there are other votes — those constituents may never notice but that are, for some lawmakers, unforgettable.

On Wednesday, the House passed a bill, 404-17, that would establish tax-exempt savings accounts for individuals with disabilities. The bill, which is expected to pass in the Senate, exempts savings, up to certain levels, and distributions from those savings for individuals and families applying for means-tested federal programs.

Currently, people with disabilities can lose access to federal programs such as Medicaid or Supplemental Security Income once they establish a certain level of savings.

For those eligible, the so-called Achieving a Better Life Experience Act could mean a more independent life, making it easier to prepare for future financial needs. For certain members of Congress, the bill means actually doing something.

For the bill’s sponsor, Florida Republican Ander Crenshaw, the measure is an emotional victory.

“It just means a lot,” Crenshaw told CQ Roll Call Tuesday, choking back tears. “Helpin’ a lot of people.”

“I just see their faces and it just …” he said, trailing off.

No one in his immediate family suffers from a severe disability, but the congressman said he had a young friend with Down syndrome. ”He was my pal, and we’d eat doughnuts together,” Crenshaw said.

The bill the House passed Wednesday represents a major legislative accomplishment in his career, he said.

“It’s pretty heartwarming for me,” he said.

Much is made of the so-called intersection of policy and politics. Hardly noticed, but perhaps more important to lawmakers themselves, is the intersection of policy and personal affairs, the bills that directly play a role in the lives of lawmakers and their loved ones.

For the members who have children with severe disabilities, passage of the ABLE Act represented a deeply personal moment.

“It’s special,” said Rules Chairman Pete Sessions, whose son Alex has Down syndrome. “Really a great feeling.”

The Texas Republican told the story of another piece of legislation — the Family Opportunity Act, which passed in 2005 as part of the Deficit Reduction Act — that’s had a lasting impact on him as a father and as a congressman.

Sessions recounted that Alex went up to President George W. Bush and said, “‘Thank you for helping with the bill.’”

“And the president had to ask: What bill?” Sessions said.

Sessions said that prompted more questions from the president, and eventually Bush, who had known Alex since he was born, became a strong advocate for the legislation, which expanded Social Security Income benefits to certain disabled individuals who were previously ineligible.

Fast forward nine years, Alex is 20. “Turns 21 in a month,” Sessions said, noting that 21 has always represented a sort of coming of age. And with this new piece of legislation, Sessions said he felt the ABLE Act would give people like his son more freedom.

“Happy birthday,” Sessions said. “Happy birthday to parents who want their children to become independent.”

Sessions poured on the praise for members who had made the bill possible, from Crenshaw and Speaker John A. Boehner to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi. And just as he named GOP Conference Chairwoman Cathy McMorris Rodgers, the Washington Republican walked by, effusive in her own praise for Sessions, who is the co-chairman of the Down Syndrome Caucus in Congress.

Earlier Tuesday, McMorris Rodgers told a story of a boy who was diagnosed with Down syndrome three days after he was born.

“Seven years later, as a mom of that little boy, nothing has given me greater joy than seeing the positive impact he is having on this world,” McMorris Rodgers said, visibly emotional as Boehner looked on with tears welling in his own eyes.

McMorris Rodgers said the ABLE Act would “empower” many people, “including people like my son Cole, for the opportunity for a better life, and that’s why we are here,” she said. Cole joined his mother on the floor for the vote.

Of course, the ABLE Act has not been without obstacles. As Crenshaw pointed out, he first introduced the bill in 2006.

“Any time you deal with the tax code,” things slow down, Crenshaw explained when asked why the bill had taken so long to get across the finish line.

The bill is complicated by its need for an offset. The Congressional Budget Office calculates the cost to be $2.1 billion over 10 years, and there was talk for a while of including the bill in tax-extender legislation the House also passed Wednesday, which did not have offsets.

That left members scrambling to find a way to pay for the legislation. The bill makes up for the cost of the tax-free accounts by making a number of changes to Medicare payments and other provisions, including a nine-cent raise in the cargo fuel excise tax, charging 15 percent more on certain federal payments to Medicare providers as a means to collect taxes, and raising the age by one year at which Social Security disability insurance benefits would kick in. It also would stop Medicare payments for penis pumps, among other things.

But what lawmakers hope the bill really does is give the disabled and their families a helping hand — something they can point to with pride when their congressional careers come to an end: A few lines in the labyrinthine U.S. tax code that made a difference.

Annie Shuppy contributed to this report.

By Matt Fuller Posted at 6:01 p.m.

Last-Ditch Push to Pass Marketplace Fairness Act in House Falls Short (Updated)

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Ellmers was one of the bill’s co-sponsors who lobbied leadership to act next year. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Updated 6:19 p.m. | As House Republicans race against the clock to negotiate a government funding bill and a reauthorization of the Terrorist Risk Insurance Act, rank-and-file lawmakers lobbied leadership one last time to bring another piece of legislation on the floor before the year’s end: A bill that would boost the collection of sales tax on the Internet.

Despite Speaker John A. Boehner’s insistence in October that he would not bring the so-called Marketplace Fairness Act up for a vote in the 113th Congress, advocates still huddled in the Ohio Republican’s office Wednesday afternoon to make their case.

Ultimately, they weren’t able to win him over.

“We had a robust discussion, and everybody knows how everybody feels,” said Rep. Steve Womack, R-Ark., who introduced the legislation, as he emerged from the closed-door gathering.

He organized the meeting of roughly 30 House Republicans, among them co-sponsors of the bill and members of the Judiciary Committee that has jurisdiction over the measure. Full story

By Emma Dumain Posted at 5:21 p.m.

Jeff Shockey Goes for the Reverse Revolving Door Again

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Shockey, left, was Lewis’ staff director on the Appropriations Committee. (CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Veteran appropriations aide and lobbyist Jeff Shockey has been appointed staff director of the House Intelligence Committee under incoming Chairman Devin Nunes, R-Calif. The move marks the second time Shockey has left a lobbying gig to take a senior position with a House Committee.

Shockey, a perennial on the Roll Call Fabulous 50 list of top staffers, spent about six years as the Republican staff director and deputy staff director for the House Appropriations Committee, where he managed the committee’s professional staff and oversaw the twelve annual appropriations bills, supplemental appropriations bills and continuing resolutions. Most recently, he’s been in business at Shockey Scofield Solutions, a lobby shop he founded in 2011 with John Scofield, a one-time Republican communications director for the House Appropriations Committee. Full story

Conservative Opposition to Spending Bill Could Give Pelosi Leverage

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King won’t back any bill with funds for the president’s immigration order. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

With many conservatives now insisting they won’t vote for any government spending bill that doesn’t block the president’s executive action on immigration, could House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi’s Democrats get a sweeter deal in exchange for votes to pass a bill to fund the government beyond Dec. 11?

Conservatives spent much of Wednesday firing up their base, building opposition to any spending bill — omnibus, continuing resolution or “cromnibus” — that doesn’t explicitly defund the immigration order.

“Some will say we’ll vote to fund it for now and then we’ll have reinforcements from the Senate next year,” Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa, said during a press conference-turned-tea-party-rally Wednesday. “Two problems with that: One of them is that we would have lost our virtue. How do we make the argument that we’re going to defend the Constitution in January, February, March or April, if we’re not willing to defend the Constitution in December?”

King said he was unwilling to vote for any bill that funds the Department of Homeland Security without blocking the executive action, even if it only funded the department for a month.

“This is a matter of principle,” King said. “This is a matter of constitutional issue.” Full story

‘Hands Up’ Joins Legacy of Boston Tea Party, Rosa Parks, Selma, Lawmaker Says (Video)

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(CQ Roll Call File Photo)

“Hands Up, Don’t Shoot” as a symbol of protest against injustice is here to stay, Rep. Al Green said Wednesday on the floor of the House.

“This is not going to go away,” the Texas Democrat said during a short, public response to critics — chiefly MSNBC’s Joe Scarborough — who have taken issue with Green’s and other black lawmakers’ use, during congressional proceedings two days earlier, of a gesture that has come to symbolize frustration over the police shooting of teenager Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo.

Green said the “Hands Up” movement that has germinated in the wake of last summer’s shooting is the latest in a long line of historic protests, including the Boston Tea Party, Martin Luther King Jr.’s Selma march and Rosa Parks’ refusal to sit at the back of the bus in Montgomery. Full story

Benghazi Committee to Hold Second Public Hearing Dec. 10

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Gowdy’s Benghazi panel will meet next week. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

True to his word, Rep. Trey Gowdy will convene a public hearing of the Select Committee on Benghazi before the year’s end.

The South Carolina Republican and chairman of the special House panel tasked with investigating the September 2012 attacks on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya, announced Wednesday morning that a hearing titled “Reviewing Efforts to Secure U.S. Diplomatic Facilities and Personnel,” will take place Dec. 10. Full story

December 2, 2014

Less than 2 Weeks to Shutdown, Conservatives Cool to ‘Cromnibus’

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Jordan and other conservatives are digging in their heels on the so-called cromnibus. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

As House Republicans sort out how they will fund the government past Dec. 11, leadership is running into a problem: Many conservatives looking to block President Barack Obama’s immigration plan contend the House must act now rather than wait until later.

That’s a more confrontational approach than the “cromnibus” proposal floated by GOP leaders Tuesday morning. The cromnibus — a portmanteau of continuing resolution and omnibus — would incorporate 11 of the 12 appropriations bills in the House, funding operations through the end of the fiscal year in September, and couple that package with a temporary CR for Homeland Security operations, likely to extend to March.

Homeland Security houses the agencies where the bulk of the executive action implementation is expected to take place.

GOP leaders argue the cromnibus is the best way to keep the government open while ensuring a fight later on the immigration executive actions — once all of Capitol Hill is under Republican control.

They also point to a “sweetener” of sorts, a chance to vote as early as Thursday on legislation that’s been introduced by Rep. Ted Yoho, R-Fla., to “disapprove” of Obama’s immigration actions.

But it might not be enough for many of the president’s staunchest opponents in Congress.

Full story

Labrador: Shutdown Didn’t Hurt GOP, Why Take It Off Table?

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Labrador, center, thinks a government shutdown can be a tool to block Obama’s immigration action. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Rep. Raúl R. Labrador has a message for Republican leadership as they decide how to respond to the president’s executive action on immigration and funding the government beyond Dec. 11: Keep a government shutdown as an option.

“I don’t think anything is off the table,” Labrador told reporters at the Capitol Tuesday. “I don’t think anybody is thinking about a shutdown, but, in negotiations, you never take anything off the table. That’s the first rule of negotiating, and apparently it’s not one that’s been learned in Washington, D.C.”

Full story

House GOP Floats Multi-Pronged Approach to Avert Government Shutdown

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(Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

House Republican leaders took members’ temperatures Tuesday morning on a multipart plan to avert a government shutdown and hold President Barack Obama accountable for his recent unilateral changes to immigration law.

GOP lawmakers are still processing the proposals, and plan to whip votes later in the day. Democrats, meanwhile, were unwilling to say explicitly whether they would be willing to vote for anything other than a “clean” spending bill.

To prevent a lapse in funding when the current stop-gap government spending bill expires on Dec. 11, Republicans intend to put forward a package of 11 of the 12 annual appropriations bills to float federal agencies and operations through the remainder of the fiscal year. Full story

Sources: Senate, House Republicans Set Joint Retreat in Pennsylvania

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McMorris Rodgers announced a joint retreat for Capitol Hill Republicans, according to sources. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

House and Senate Republicans expect to hold a joint retreat early in the next Congress in Hershey, Pennsylvania, sources in both chambers said Tuesday. Full story

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