Roll Call: Latest News on Capitol Hill, Congress, Politics and Elections
August 29, 2015

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

July 9, 2015

The One Candidate Who Did Something in Congress

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Webb may have only stayed one term, but he got a lot done in Congress, for a freshman. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

When the expansive presidential field tops out the week after next, five current and six former members of Congress will officially be in the hunt. Only one can claim to have driven the enactment of landmark legislation.

Jim Webb, who announced his bid for the Democratic nomination a week ago, spent just a single term as a senator from Virginia and realized his crowning achievement as a freshman. The bill he introduced on his first day in office in 2007, the most comprehensive update of the GI Bill in 25 years and the biggest expansion of educational aid to veterans since World War II, became law a year and a half later. Full story

July 8, 2015

Hill’s Spending on Itself Set on Cautious Course

The Capitol Dome's restoration is one of the things lawmakers must fund in the legislative branch appropriations that handle congressional spending.

The Capitol Dome’s restoration is funded in the legislative branch appropriations bill dealing with congressional spending. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

The end of the fiscal year is still a dozen weeks in the future, but already a shutdown showdown looks inevitable. For circumstantial evidence, look no further than the floor schedules for this month. None of the 12 annual spending bills will get a shot at passing the Senate, while the House will give up on the appropriations calendar with four measures in limbo.

But those who work on Capitol Hill can breathe much more easily than many. They, at least, already have a strong measure of certainty about the coming year. Bills setting the budgets for running Congress and its satellite agencies in the coming year have already been endorsed, in remarkably similar form, by the entire House and the Senate Appropriations Committee.

Full story

June 30, 2015

Two Weeks on, Hill’s Post-Charleston Agenda Has All but Disappeared

Debate over Confederate imagery abounds, but not so much on guns and voting rights. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Debate over Confederate imagery abounds, but not so much on guns and voting rights. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

The last of the funerals for the Emanuel Nine is Tuesday, and momentum for removing Confederate symbols from the public square has reached a plateau. But what about tangible federal policy changes in reaction to the Charleston shootings?

Only a week ago, it seemed the deaths of nine African-Americans in a South Carolina church, at the hand of a white supremacist wielding a .45 semiautomatic, would at a minimum jumpstart stalled discussions about gun control and civil rights legislation.

Full story

June 25, 2015

Senate Showing Its Age Lately, Mostly to the Good (Video)

At 82, Feinstein is the oldest member of the Senate. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

At 82, Feinstein is the oldest member of the Senate. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

The Senate seems as dinged up as ever this summer. Is it coincidence, or are senators just getting older?

It’s both. So there’s no reason to become alarmed that some wave of infirmity is taking over the place, just because three of its hundred members have gone public with a significant health challenge in recent weeks. Full story

June 23, 2015

Confederate Flag Debate Showcases Scott as Symbol

Sen. Tim Scott

(Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

The revived debate about the Confederate battle flag has climaxed with exceptional speed in South Carolina, where the state’s three most prominent Republicans led a bipartisan call Monday for removing the banner completely from the state capitol.

Sen. Lindsey Graham was seizing an opening to underscore his maverick political brand and distinguish himself in a field of presidential candidates who have remained largely equivocal on the polarizing question. Gov. Nikki R. Haley was taking advantage of an opportunity allowing her to reverse a position that’s complicated her own public profile.

Full story

June 21, 2015

Four Nominees From Hill History for New Face on $10

Chisholm could be a contender for the new $10 bill. Her portrait was dedicated in March 2009, with Reps. Barbara Lee, Nancy Pelosi and Maxine Waters. (CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Chisholm could be a contender for the new $10 bill. Her portrait was dedicated in March 2009, with Reps. Barbara Lee, Nancy Pelosi and Maxine Waters. (CQ Roll Call File Photo)

There’s not a female face on our paper currency, which the U.S. Treasury is now promising to change. There is also no one on our money who’s distinguished because of service in Congress. The Obama administration has viable options for rectifying both shortcomings simultaneously with its choice for new portraiture on the $10 bill.

A strong case can be made that the visage for our monetary future should be Jeannette Rankin, the first congresswoman. Or Margaret Chase Smith, the first female to serve in congressional leadership. Or Shirley Chisholm, the first African-American woman in Congress. Or Barbara Jordan , a singular voice of congressional conscience during the constitutional crisis of Watergate. Full story

June 18, 2015

GOP Not Quite Ready for the Health Care Victory It’s Dreamed About

Obamacare

Sisters hold a sign at a rally outside of the Supreme Court during arguments in the King v. Burwell case on March 4, 2015. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

With each passing day of Supreme Court suspense, the image of the dog catching the bus has come more warily into focus for congressional Republicans.

The wait could end as soon as Thursday, when the justices are expected to announce rulings in a few of the 17 cases remaining on this year’s docket. If there’s still no decision on the fate of the landmark health care law, many GOP members will indulge in a collective sigh of relief — because they will have been given a little more time to cobble together plans for a moment they’ve spent five years dreaming about. Full story

June 17, 2015

Why Backing the Rule Is No. 1 Rule for Party Discipline

Boehner is demanding party loyalty to deliver a victory on procedural rules. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

Boehner is demanding party loyalty to deliver a Republican victory on procedural rules. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

“Voting on the rule” may sound like nothing more than procedural inside baseball. But an enormous amount of policy and political consequence hinges on the fate of House roll calls on resolutions setting the terms for a bill’s consideration.

That’s as true this summer as it’s been in a long while. It’s not a stretch to say President Barack Obama’s top remaining second-term priority, and prospects for Republicans to prove competence at controlling Congress, both rest on this bit of the parliamentary process. Full story

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