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When negotiators on the highway and mass transit bill formally convened Wednesday, it took only a few minutes for them to cut their first deal: Rep. Bill Shuster was named chairman of the conference committee.
The decision further cements the Pennsylvania Republican’s standing as one of the most prominent legislators of the year — and it raises the stakes for his performance in the next few weeks.
A new set of policies and payments for public works, six years overdue, is now tantalizingly close to becoming one of the biggest achievements in the first year of the 114th Congress. Shuster made clear at the conferees’ opening session he will press hard for an agreement soon after next week’s holiday recess.
“So, staff on both sides of the aisle, happy Thanksgiving,” he said.
It’s a moment he’s been preparing for throughout his three years at the helm of the House Transportation and Infrastructure panel. But he began his schooling for this time as a boy, aided by the example and perhaps the genetics of his father. Full story
Unlike most of his Republican analogues, Bernard Sanders is overtly trying to harness his senatorial work this fall to the service of his presidential campaign.
The evidence goes beyond his presence on the Senate floor, though on that front he stands out. Of the five senators trying to win the White House, the Vermont independent running as a Democrat has missed the fewest votes: Just 14 this year, as of Tuesday, for a 95 percent attendance rate. Three of his colleagues running for the GOP nomination have missed 75 or more roll calls. (The exception is Kentucky’s Rand Paul, who’s only skipped five more ballots than Sanders.)
Merely showing up for work is hardly a predictor of success, of course. (Barack Obama made only 62 percent of the Senate votes the year before winning the presidency.) But it’s part of what helps Sanders to ward-off the sort of the criticism that has dogged Republicans Marco Rubio of Florida, who’s missed the most votes by far, and Ted Cruz of Texas, whose campaign has emphasized his disdain for the Senate’s ways under the management by his own party.
In contrast, Sanders is using the power of Senate incumbency to advance causes that highlight themes of his national campaign — that the Washington game is rigged to benefit the moneyed heavyweights at the expense of the little guy, and he’s the candidate to turn that balance of power on its head. Full story
After the Sept. 11 attacks, the most famous moment when terrorism instantly replaced the economy as the congressional agenda item, editors here struggled to assemble a list of 28 lawmakers prepared to take ownership of the Hill’s new mission.
Nineteen of them have left in the intervening 14 years, making way for a new generation of members driving debates about foreign intelligence, international relations, military defense and domestic protection policies. And because of the Republican takeover of the Senate in 2014 and House GOP term limits, six of the eight committees that will take the lead in shaping the congressional response to the Islamic State got new chairmen this year.
The situation stands to focus extra attention in the weeks ahead on the pair in the House who have held their gavels two years longer than the rest: Michael McCaul of Texas at Homeland Security and Ed Royce of California at Foreign Relations. Full story
The path from the legislative to the executive branch is as well-worn as usual, with five senators and a former senator now hoping to succeed another onetime senator as president and 15 former members joining the Cabinets of the Obama and George Bush administrations.
The route between the legislative and judicial branches, by contrast, is as weeded-over as it’s ever been. No one has gone from Congress to the federal bench in 30 years, and the last Supreme Court justice with any congressional experience retired in 1971.
The natures of those political trajectories might not remain as diametrically different for all that much longer. Full story
Decades of waiting on the arrival of the annual congressional calendar and then poring over the details affords Hill long-timers a nuanced appreciation of the myriad political calculations and logistical limitations that go in to setting the Capitol’s timetable for an entire year.
Inside the stretches of legislating followed by the bursts of recess, the schedules for 2016 announced this week by the Republican top brass in the House and Senate offer some quirky rhythms and unexpected sequences that give insight into the hectic election year ahead. Here are five messages delivered by the new diary. Full story
Just days into the job, Speaker Paul D. Ryan has now made two decisions that deliver a powerful signal about how he’ll be the institutional steward of the House.
First, by declaring he’ll keep sleeping in his office, and now by having J. Dennis Hastert’s ceremonial portrait carted off to oblivion, Ryan is sending a clear message about his priorities: Trying for a short-term boost in the abysmal reputation of Congress — by using symbolic gestures that are easy for the electorate to understand — is more important than shielding the long-term reputation and historical stature of the legislative branch. Full story
Many colorful “firsts” are accompanying Paul D. Ryan into the speakership. Most are distinctions from his past he can do nothing to alter: The only Wisconsinite to ever preside over the House, the first who’s been Ways and Means chairman, waited tables on Capitol Hill or toiled as a House staffer.
There’s one symbolically important aspect of his present life, however, that’s also unprecedented among House speakers — and that he may be pressed to change:
Most lawmakers approach life in Congress as they would a functional marriage: The decision to go down the road is taken with great care, the thrill of the new is soon supplanted by hard work and sacrifice in pursuit of lasting gratification — and it’s painful whenever things don’t work out, for whatever reason.
Marco Rubio has decided his congressional career is more akin to a nascent relationship, where “love it or leave it” is an appropriate default setting. Full story
Assuming no more last-minute surprises this fall at the House Republican Conference, the only important personnel decision to be made in coming days is who’ll become chairman of the Ways and Means Committee.
Paul D. Ryan’s agreement to be speaker, to be formally embraced by his GOP colleagues Wednesday, means after just 10 months he must give up the job he’s always described as his top political ambition.
Kevin Brady of Texas announced Monday he wants to be the next to run the House’s most important panel, which writes tax, trade, health care and social safety net legislation. Pat Tiberi of Ohio declared his candidacy last week. Full story
“If it wasn’t for the filibuster, he’d still be the speaker today.”
That out-of-the-box theory was unspooled the other day by the ultra-right wing Rep. Trent Franks of Arizona. In his view, Speaker John A. Boehner’s agenda was sufficiently conservative to merit the good graces of almost all the most confrontational House Republicans and their like-minded constituents. But Boehner’s commitment to the cause, Franks posited, got unfairly overlooked because so little legislation got through Congress. Full story
What’s the best job security Paul D. Ryan can hope for, even if the Republican malcontents hold their fire long enough and he becomes speaker of the House?
That would be one year. Fourteen months, at the outside. Full story
Daniel Webster made clear over the past two weeks he wasn’t waiting on Paul D. Ryan’s big decision. And on Thursday, the relatively obscure Florida congressman reiterated he is still running for speaker, no matter what.
He’ll continue his quest, he said in a terse statement, “to transform a broken Congress based on the power of a few into a principle-based, member-driven Congress.”
The rationale for his long-shot candidacy is more complex than how he’s being marketed: As the preferred candidate of the House Freedom Caucus, Webster has the favor of 40 or so of the most conservative Republicans, a bloc of support no leader of today’s House can hope to govern without.
In fact, the 66-year-old lawmaker from Orlando’s career in public life has made him something of a Rorschach test for his Republican colleagues. Full story
Tuesday’s symposium on the legacy of Walter Mondale, the former vice president and power-player senator, offers a fresh rationale for considering a smartly argued report that’s gone largely overlooked in all this fall’s congressional news.
The white paper, released last month by the nonprofit and nonpartisan Partnership for Public Service, concludes that congressional polarization has spread gridlock so widely and deeply beyond the Capitol that it’s gummed up the works significantly for the executive branch as well. Full story
The year’s most important congressional hearing is at hand — not only because momentum in a presidential election is in play, but also because the legislative branch’s ability to conduct serious oversight is on the line.
On both fronts, the power to shape the public’s perception Thursday rests with Hillary Rodham Clinton. And, whatever else about her behavior and ideology remains open to passionate disagreement, this much looks clear: With a single glaring exception, she has made an exceptionally effective witness during her 31 previous appearances before Congress, dating back more than two decades. Full story
Updated Oct. 13, 12 p.m. | There may be plenty of good reasons why Republicans are now seeking a “fresh face” as House speaker. But picking from outside the existing chain of command would also create some big challenges.
It also would be highly unusual. It’s been nearly a century since someone was chosen to preside over the House without ever occupying a lower rung in the leadership. The past 16 speakers, in other words, have won with serious insider credentials — even when political common sense has pointed to the selection of a certified outsider. Full story