Roll Call: Latest News on Capitol Hill, Congress, Politics and Elections
October 7, 2015

October 5, 2015

Scorched Senate Tactics Limiting Cruz’s Options, Top Prize Excepted

Cruz has alienated many Senate colleagues (Al Drago/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Cruz has alienated many Senate colleagues. (Al Drago/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

The questions about Ted Cruz in the Senate no longer start with whether he’s got even a couple of friends left among fellow Republicans. The answer, after a public shaming on the floor last week, sure looks like a “no.”

As to whether he’s bothered by his deepening isolation in the Capitol, that’s just as easily answered in the negative. To the contrary, he’s acting as though it’s one of the best things going for him in his presidential campaign. Full story

September 30, 2015

Ambition, Achievement, Tenure: House’s Team of GOP Rivals Long on Just One

Scalise, right, and McCarthy, have scant few legislative achievements. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

Scalise, right, and McCarthy, have few legislative achievements. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

This much has become clear about the still-evolving scramble to reconfigure the House Republican leadership: Only white males will end up occupying the top three positions of power. They’re all going to hail from the Sun Belt. At least two, but perhaps all three, will have been in Congress for fewer than a dozen years.

And not one of them will have an established reputation for either legislative accomplishment or expertise in any particular area of public policy. Full story

September 29, 2015

Hamlet of the House Routine Prompts Talk About Act 3

(Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

(Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

On paper, at least, he remains an obvious option. Just ask him. And yet Jeb Hensarling is walking away, for the second time in as many years, from an opportunity to move into the topmost echelon of House Republicans.

Over the weekend, the Dallas congressman was totally eager to be on the Great Mentioner’s lips as a central player in the latest GOP leadership upheaval, brought on by the surprise departure of Speaker John A. Boehner, R-Ohio. It was the same way 15 months ago, when Eric Cantor’s even more surprising defeat in Virginia’s GOP primary meant the end of his time as majority leader.

Yet when it came time to either put up for one of those top jobs or to stand down, Hensarling demurred on Monday after “prayerful consideration,” the precise rationale he also deployed last time. Full story

September 27, 2015

Will Speakers Ever Again Be Able to Stay on Their Own Terms?

UNITED STATES - SEPTEMBER 25: Speaker of the House John Boehner, R-Ohio, holds a news conference on Friday, Sept. 25, 2015, to discuss his decision to resign his position as Speaker and leave Congress at the end of October. (Photo By Bill Clark/Roll Call/Pool)

(Bill Clark/Roll Call/Pool)

Speaker John A. Boehner’s resignation continues, and possibly cements, a remarkable pattern in modern American politics.

The most powerful position in Congress has also become one of the most unstable jobs in American government. After almost a century of orderly departures and orchestrated transitions, five of the six most recent speakers of the House have now been pushed from the Capitol by circumstances they could not control.

The trend of past three decades will surely make California’s Kevin McCarthy, or whoever ascends to the presiding officer’s chair, extremely wary about his career’s trajectory over the long term — even after this fall’s latest internal Republican revolution gets put to rest. Full story

September 21, 2015

Members Will Be Blocked 2 Ways From Touching Pope Francis (Video)

Reid and other congressional leaders will do all they can to keep Pope Francis on schedule . (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Reid and other congressional leaders will do all they can to keep Pope Francis on schedule. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Too many members cannot be trusted to behave themselves when Pope Francis comes to the Capitol, the congressional leadership has decided. And so, to enforce decorous discipline, some extraordinary measures are being readied.

Each party is assembling teams of lawmakers to essentially act as blocking tackles, willing to restrain any of their colleagues intent on trying to reach out for a papal touch as he walks onto the floor of the House.

And after the historic speech, the doors to the cloakrooms and the hallways will be blocked — and in some cases, locked — to prevent lawmakers from leaving the chamber for perhaps half an hour, until Francis has appeared on a West Front balcony to greet the ticketed throng and then departed the Hill by motorcade. Full story

September 16, 2015

In Time for the Pope, Catholic Plurality of Congress Achieves Partisan Balance

Boehner has been advocating for a papal address for years. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Boehner has been advocating for a papal address for years. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

It will be the most Catholic Congress ever that hears from Pope Francis — and, as of this month, the first with as many Republican as Democratic members of the church.

Two decades ago, the year before Speaker John A. Boehner initially became part of the GOP leadership and started working to arrange a papal visit, 27 percent of lawmakers were Roman Catholic but only a third of them were Republicans like him. One generation and a pair of papacies later, the Ohioan’s vision is about to become a reality in a Capitol with very different faith demographics.

While the nation and its federal legislators have become more religiously diverse overall, the congressional Catholic population has grown steadily: 31 percent of today’s lawmakers say they belong to the church, but only 22 percent of their constituents do. Full story

September 10, 2015

A Tale of Two House Democrats on Opposite Courses Toward the House Exits

(Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

(Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

They are a pair of congressmen looking to be in the prime of their public lives. Both are party loyalists with unabashedly progressive views and constituencies as deeply “blue” as they are. Both are emblematic of a caucus that’s trending less white and more liberal. Their names even appear close together on the alphabetical roll of House Democrats.

And yet it’s become clear in recent days they are on opposite political trajectories. One is getting pushed toward a potential ride to national prominence. The other is returning to a treacherous path pointed toward electoral oblivion, if not personal disgrace.

As a result, both Reps. Hakeem Jeffries of Brooklyn and Michael M. Honda of the Silicon Valley may well be gone from Congress in two years. Their stories are another reminder that while the House Democrats will probably remain mired in the minority for years to come, there are all sorts of reasons why their membership roster is hardly static. And the most ambitious among them increasingly find themselves confronting others from their own party when they come to crossroads in their careers. Full story

September 9, 2015

One Day in, Climactic Month Slips Into Pope-Inspired Procrastination

Harry Reid and other congressional leaders are looking at a number of deadlines this month. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

Harry Reid and other congressional leaders are looking at a number of deadlines this month. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

How easy it is to procrastinate during the first month of a new semester, knowing none of the difficult assignments are really due before the end of the term — and especially when there are so many tempting distractions on campus.

So it is again this fall, at the Capitol as much as in college. Which is why Congress, back in town only one day, is already looking ahead to a shortened September that’s long on theatrics but almost bereft of nose-to-the-grindstone legislative work.

Full story

August 10, 2015

August Recess an Ideal Time for Art History Class at the Capitol

(Douglas Graham/ CQ Roll Call File Photo)

(Douglas Graham/ CQ Roll Call File Photo)

The oppressively ugly tangle of plastic sheeting and two-by-fours that’s dominated the Hart Building atrium for several months is, paradoxically, a reminder of just how much inspirational beauty infuses the Capitol complex.

The art that fills the place is astonishing in its stylistic variety and civic symbolic range. The millions of tourists who flock to the Hill are spoon-fed a taste by their guides. But the aesthetic richness and historical insight that’s quite literally built into the place is widely overlooked by many, if not most, of the people who actually work there.

Day in and day out, one of the best ways to distinguish an outsider from an insider is this: Visitors, newcomers and interns slow traffic in the halls by gawking at their surroundings. Regular aides, lawmakers and advocates hustle down the corridors with their eyes on their smartphones, oblivious to the aesthetic enlightenment surrounding them.

Staffers should seize an opportunity to play against type this summer, now that their bosses have gone, the lobbyists have scattered and the tourist crush has started to slacken. For those aides stuck in their cubes for even part of the next four weeks, connecting with the art that fills their work environment ought to be part of their August recess bucket list — right up there with taking in DC Beer Week or one of the 14 Nationals home games before Congress returns. Full story

August 5, 2015

GOP Eyes Audacious Escape Plan From Policy Gridlock This Fall

A stormy fall is assured for Congress. (Bill Clark/ CQ Roll Call)

A stormy fall is assured for Congress. (Bill Clark/ CQ Roll Call)

Even by the standards of today’s Capitol, where doing important business at or after the last possible moment is the default setting, an exceptionally long and disparate roster of battles and deadlines lies ahead this fall.

Far from conceding they’ll be strategically paralyzed by the welter of polarizing conflict, however, senior Republicans increasingly boast how the situation after Labor Day creates an ideal venue for a big accomplishment by Christmas.

This may prove to be only the naive optimism inherent in the onset of an especially long August recess. But the party that won control of Congress a year ago — with a promise to end the era of shutdown showmanship and fiscal cliff-walking — insists it’s got an escape hatch in the corner it’s been painting itself into all year. Full story

July 28, 2015

Heightened Awkwardness in Trump’s Recent Donations to Hill GOP

Graham recently received a campaign check from Trump. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Graham recently received a campaign check from Trump. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

A “lightweight,” an “idiot” and a “beggar” were just a few of the go-to epithets Donald Trump hurled at Sen. Lindsey Graham last week, before giving out the senator’s cellphone number to the world.

But there’s at least one way in which the billionaire businessman holds his Republican presidential rival in high regard: Graham is the most recent person to receive one of Trump’s campaign contributions.

The $2,600 check was written in October, just before the senator was re-elected in South Carolina and seven months before either announced a bid for the White House and started their public feud. The donation is yet another reminder of the unusual, and sometimes, awkward transformation Trump is making from behind-the-scenes political financier to omnipresent force as a candidate. Full story

July 23, 2015

High-Risk, Delayed-Reward Strategy for Fighting Menendez Indictment

(Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

(Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Sen. Robert Menendez has raised the legal stakes for all of Congress, and bought some crucial time for his own imperiled career, with the aggressive strategy he’s unveiled for fighting corruption charges.

If the New Jersey Democrat gets his way, then the indictment against him — alleging he put his congressional muscle to work for a longtime friend and benefactor in return for campaign cash and lavish pampering — will be put in limbo for years, maybe even until after he’s next up for re-election in 2018. Full story

July 21, 2015

Reputation Can Be Tough to Reverse; Just Ask Sheila Jackson Lee

Lee, second from right, came to the defense of an aide. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Lee, second from right, came to the defense of an aide. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

The latest dust-up centered on Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee has several hallmarks of her form — behaving in ways the vast majority of members of Congress intuitively know to avoid.

She got up in somebody’s business in a very public place. She sought to dominate a situation where her very presence was untoward. And she asserted her titular authority in the pursuit of special treatment at a time when such a power play seemed wholly inappropriate.

But there’s one way in which the altercation last month between Houston’s Democratic congresswoman and the Capitol Police deviated significantly from her reputation: She was coming to the defense of an aide, not castigating one. Full story

July 16, 2015

When Fear on the Right Is Trumped by Fear of Self

Ellmers is one of the few members of the House GOP Conference facing a Republican primary. But the party doesn't have much to worry about this year. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Ellmers is one of the few members of the House GOP Conference facing a Republican primary. But the party has little to worry about. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

When they’re not busy raising money off it, House Republicans tend to sound plenty whiny about their stated No. 1 fear: Being successfully challenged from the right in the next primary.

The worry turned out to be way overstated last year, and the early signs are the same will prove true next year. Full story

July 14, 2015

Confederate Flag Debate Is Historic Test for Boehner

Boehner xxx (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

Boehner has made himself clear on Confederate flag imagery. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

When things get particularly rocky, John A. Boehner sometimes tries to assert control by reminding people he is “speaker of the whole House,” meaning his responsibilities as institutional steward can trump his role as Republican-in-chief.

If there were ever an important opportunity to stand firmly behind that part of his job description, this summer’s extraordinarily raw debate about legacies of the Civil War is that time. Full story

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