Roll Call: Latest News on Capitol Hill, Congress, Politics and Elections
March 4, 2015

Posts by David Hawkings

392 Posts

March 4, 2015

Landmark Supreme Court Cases Ahead, but Not on TV

Sotomayor has changed her views on cameras in the courtroom since her 2009 confirmation hearings. (CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Sotomayor has changed her views on cameras in the courtroom since her 2009 confirmation hearings. (CQ Roll Call File Photo)

It’s arguably the most important single hour of federal policymaking this year, and it’s happening Wednesday morning inside a government building on Capitol Hill. But except for clusters of reporters and attorneys, joined by a few dozen citizens who’ve waited hours in a long queue for a glimpse, the event will remain invisible forever.

The occasion is the Supreme Court oral argument, starting at 10 a.m., in a case threatening the viability of the 2010 Affordable Care Act. The justices are going to decide if one phrase fails to legally underpin one of the statute’s central provisions: Tax breaks for poor and middle-income Americans who obtain medical insurance through the federal government’s new online marketplace.

King v. Burwell is one of this term’s landmark disputes, along with the cases that could establish a constitutional right for gay couples to marry, to be argued this spring. Health care for millions is threatened in the first instance, and the civil rights of millions is at stake in the other. But taxpayers whose futures hang in the balance will never get to witness their government in action at this important juncture. Full story

March 3, 2015

Mikulski Legacy Is Beyond Longevity

1996

Mikulski, left, mentored new female senators such as Mary L Landrieu, seen here in the Capitol in 1996. (CQ Roll Call File Photo)

The most obvious distinction Barbara A. Mikulski will take into retirement is that she’s spent more time in Congress than any other woman, and that’s a record worthy of significant recognition. But, especially at a Capitol so deeply mired in dysfunction and partisanship, the meaning of her service is deeper than mere longevity.

Mikulski has become the embodiment of “old school” in an institution where the thrill of the new has taken hold with a vengeance. Beyond rattling so many glass ceilings during her four decades on the Hill, Maryland’s senior Democratic senator has stuck with all manner of virtues and behaviors that have fallen into disfavor by the newer members — devoted as they are to confrontation and content to claim deadlock as their principal work product. Full story

February 26, 2015

A Former Senior Senate GOP Leader Is Ready for a Comeback. Who Knew?

(Chris Maddaloni/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

(Chris Maddaloni/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

He’s looking a little tan, sounding rested and signaling he’s ready. He’s a former senator from a big swing state who was a senior member of the congressional leadership. He was even the runner-up for his party’s presidential nomination last cycle.

So where is Rick Santorum these days? Not only has he not cleared the 2016 field, he isn’t even close to cracking the top ranks of potential Republican candidates. Full story

February 25, 2015

Immigration Testimony Revives a Senate Soap Opera

Laxalt, right, (Scott J. Ferrell/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Laxalt, right, is the grandfather of the Nevada attorney general who will testify Wednesday. (CQ Roll Call File Photo)

There are 27 states where the attorney general is a Republican, and 22 of them have signed on to the lawsuit challenging President Barack Obama’s effort to limit deportations. But only one of them is being ushered under the national spotlight Wednesday morning as the single elected official asked to testify before the House Judiciary Committee on “the unconstitutionality of President Obama’s executive overreach.”

Curiously, he’s been in office for less than two months and his state was the most recent to join the litigation, which has become this winter’s newest pivot point in the increasingly acrimonious balance-of-power battle over immigration policy. But almost nothing happens at the Capitol by happenstance, so there are a couple of readily apparent reasons why Nevada Attorney General Adam Paul Laxalt would have been chosen as the star witness of the day. Full story

February 24, 2015

Oscar-Winning Portrayals About Legislative Impasse

Common and John Legend (Kevin Winter/Getty Images)

Common and John Legend. (Kevin Winter/Getty Images)

There’s always at least of whiff of politics at the Oscars, but the speeches this year touched on as many different hot-button issues in Congress as ever.

Almost all the appeals for action were jabs from the left, readily predictable given the homogeneity of the movie industry’s ideology. So, almost all the passionate provocateurs are bound to be disappointed with what they hear out of the Capitol — at least between now and the 89th annual Academy Awards in 2017. Full story

February 23, 2015

Why a Fired Fire Chief Got on Capitol Hill’s Radar

Loudermilk, seen here with his family during his January mock-swearing in, is defending a fired fire chief. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Loudermilk, seen here with his family during his January mock-swearing in, is defending a fired fire chief. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

The firing of Atlanta’s fire chief has already become a flashpoint in the debate over how to balance the religious beliefs of public officials against the civil rights of their constituents. Now the argument has spread to the Capitol — prompting questions about proper congressional roles in local controversies, especially when statewide electoral and legislative consequences lie just below the surface.

Chief Kelvin Cochran was dismissed six weeks ago, after a city investigation into a self-published book laying out his evangelical Christian religious beliefs. Its most incendiary passage described being gay or lesbian as a “sexual perversion” comparable to pedophilia or bestiality and labeled homosexual acts as “vile, vulgar and inappropriate.” Full story

February 18, 2015

Prayer in Congress: Not Just for House and Senate

Protesters gather outside the Supreme Court during arguments over prayer at public meetings and the separation of church and state in November 2013. (CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Protesters at the Supreme Court during arguments over prayer at public meetings and the separation of church and state in November 2013. (CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Taxpayer dollars have been used to pay chaplains of the House and Senate since the spring of 1789, when the first of 106 different ordained Christian ministers were elected to those jobs.

Only one of them, however, served as a member of Congress before returning as a man of the cloth: Oliver Cromwell Comstock, who spent three terms as a congressman from upstate New York before becoming a Baptist pastor and returning to the House as chaplain for eight months in 1837.

Now that 19th century politician-preacher has found something akin to a 21st century successor in the form of K. Michael Conaway, a six-term Baptist Republican from Midland, Texas, and the new chairman this year of the House Agriculture Committee. Full story

February 12, 2015

Power Primer: Obama Veto of Keystone Is Just One Step

In this 2007 archival photo, Ron Auerbach, 8, delivers petitions to the White House to protest President George W. Bush's veto of the State Children's Health Insurance Program. (CQ Roll Call File Photo)

In this 2007 photo, 8-year-old Ron Auerbach delivers petitions to the White House to protest President George W. Bush’s veto of the State Children’s Health Insurance Program. (CQ Roll Call File Photo)

It looks like a refresher course is in order on how Congress handles a veto, procedurally and politically.

It’s been four years and four months since the last time a president rejected a bill that landed on his desk. And 243 House members, along with 54 senators, have taken office since the last time legislation was enacted despite such a veto.

The most recent veto date (October 2010) is about to be eclipsed, because President Barack Obama has left no doubt he’s going to return the measure approving the Keystone XL oil pipeline. But the most recent override marker (July 2008) is guaranteed to remain a while longer, because neither side of the Capitol has the two-thirds majorities required to make the Keystone bill into a law without the president’s say-so. Full story

February 11, 2015

Court, Not Congress Could Mark Civil Rights Landmark

Rep. Earl Blumenauer, D-Ore., was at the Supreme Court when it announced its landmark gay marriage decision in 2013. (CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Rep. Earl Blumenauer, D-Ore., rallied with activists at the Supreme Court when it announced its landmark gay marriage decision in 2013. (CQ Roll Call File Photo)

If you believe the two most conservative justices, then the Supreme Court can nearly be counted on to declare that same-sex couples have a constitutional right to get married. And if their expectation proves true, that decision may well go down as the most significant nationwide expansion of civil rights where Congress was on the sidelines.

One of the most rapid evolutions in the history of American moral values is potentially just 20 weeks from its breakthrough moment. The court is on course to decide before adjourning in June whether states may ban same-sex unions — astonishingly, fewer than five years after the very first national poll to find a majority supporting a universal right to marry. Full story

February 10, 2015

GOP, NBC Have Prominent Players at Similar Crossroads

(Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

(Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Not often do a congressman and an anchorman see their careers simultaneously lurching onto parallel and perilous tracks. But that’s one way of looking at what’s happening with Aaron Schock and Brian Williams.

The situations facing both the Republican House member from Illinois and the face of “NBC Nightly News” appear strikingly similar in many ways. Full story

February 9, 2015

2020 Census Might Offer Hope for Democrats

What will the 2020 census mean for reapportionment and redistricting? (CQ Roll Call File Photo)

What might the 2020 census mean for congressional reapportionment and redistricting? (CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Even at the center of the Beltway’s echo chamber, the preoccupation with a presidential election almost two years away is starting to sound a bit crazy. So maybe the best antidote is to start talking about an important political occasion more than five years in the future.

It’s the next census, on April Fools’ Day 2020. Just a handful of the numbers will have a significant effect on the congressional power structure, most importantly whether Democrats gain a better shot in the next decade at controlling the House. Full story

February 5, 2015

It’s Not Easy Being a Presidential Candidate With an M.D.

A Paul 2016 bid could be complicated by the fact he is a doctor. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

A Paul 2016 bid could be complicated by the fact that he is a doctor. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Rand Paul is looking to run the most serious presidential campaign ever by a physician, but in the early going his medical degree is proving more of a complication than a benefit.

Just this week, the Kentucky senator’s presumed expertise as a doctor has set him apart from his potential 2016 Republican rivals in two controversial ways — with his declaration that most childhood immunizations should be voluntary, and because of new details about why he’s not certified by the national board in his specialty of ophthalmology. Full story

February 3, 2015

Deep-Sixing 529s Could Add Up to Zero for Tax Overhaul

(Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

(Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

In divided government, it’s nothing special for a presidential budget to be immediately dismissed as dead on arrival in Congress. It’s much rarer for the president himself to whack an important piece of his budget a full week before delivery.

President Barack Obama’s swift killing of a proposal to effectively eliminate the college savings accounts known as 529s is instructive about this year’s legislative dynamic because it connects two emerging story lines: The efforts by both parties to be perceived as doing the most for the middle class and the drive toward the biggest overhaul of the tax code in a generation.

Full story

January 29, 2015

A Democrat’s Choice to End Subtlety on Divisive Issue

Ryan, center, might be looking to join Sen. Sherrod Brown, right, in the other chamber. (CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Ryan, center, just might be looking to join Sen. Sherrod Brown, right, in the other chamber. (CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Yet another measurement of the current congressional polarization, and yet another reminder that nothing happens on the Hill without suspicion of political motive, arrived Wednesday on the op-ed page of the Akron Beacon Journal.

It was an 820-word essay from one of the four House members from that part of northeastern Ohio, Democratic Rep. Tim Ryan, headlined, “Why I changed my thinking on abortion.”

Full story

January 28, 2015

Next Drone Incursion: Reasons to Buzz Capitol Hill

Sen. Patrick J. Leahy arrives at a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing with a Draganflyer X6 drone last March. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Sen. Patrick J. Leahy arrives at a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing with a Draganflyer X6 drone last March. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

You have to read to the 128th page of the 131-page rulebook governing the public’s movements and behavior on Capitol Hill. But there it is in Section 16.2.90, tucked between admonitions against flying a kite or taking a nap in the shadow of the Dome.

“The use of model rockets, remote or manually controlled model gliders, model airplanes or unmanned aircrafts, model boats and model cars is prohibited on Capitol grounds.”

Full story

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