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July 29, 2015

Posts in "Balance of Powers"

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

June 9, 2015

Passport Case Boosts Obama Foreign Policy Over Hill

The Jerusalem passport case has taken away some of Congress' power. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

The Supreme Court ruling on the Jerusalem passport case takes away some of Congress’ power. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Congress has decisively lost to the president in the year’s most consequential balance-of-powers dispute before the Supreme Court.

The president must have exclusive power to formally recognize the government of another nation, the court declared Monday in a 6-3 decision both sides predicted would shift influence over American foreign policy away from the Capitol and push more of it toward the White House. Full story

April 29, 2015

What Gay Marriage Briefs Tell Us About Congress

Supreme Court Gay Marriage Hearing

Which members of Congress have gotten involved with the SCOTUS gay marriage case? (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

Though only a few lawmakers participated in the rallies during Tuesday’s oral arguments, more than half the members of Congress had already formalized their views on the same-sex marriage cases before the Supreme Court.

A review of the congressional signatures on three friend-of-the-court briefs revealed an important political narrative underneath the historic story about the future of American society. And that’s the fact almost all the Democrats facing heated re-election races next year have told the court they believe gays and lesbians have a constitutional right to get married. Almost all the Republicans looking at competitive campaigns decided to steer clear of the question. Full story

March 12, 2015

Republican Opposition to Lynch Might Make History

How many Republican votes will Lynch get? (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

How many Republican votes will Lynch get? (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

The most amazing thing about the Loretta Lynch story is that the congressional community no longer views it as amazing.

Lynch is on course to be confirmed this month after the longest wait ever for a nominee to be attorney general — and very likely by the closest vote ever to put a new person in charge of the Justice Department. Full story

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

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 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 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

January 22, 2015

Congress, Obama Each Say ‘You First’ on War Authorization

Boehner and Obama each have demurred on introducing a war authorization measure. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

Boehner and Obama each have demurred on introducing a war authorization measure. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

On the topic of authorizing the use of military force against the Islamic State, the state of play between Congress and President Barack Obama is reminiscent of some famous cartoon humor from a century ago.

The premise of “Alphonse and Gaston,” a comic strip that ran in the old New York Journal for a decade starting in 1901, was that the title characters were essentially paralyzed by their devotion to an extreme and unnecessary form of deferential politeness. Neither would ever do anything or travel anywhere because each insisted that the other precede him. Full story

January 20, 2015

State of the Union: Why Members Keep Showing Up

Sens. Charles E. Grassley, left, chats with Rep. Louie Gohmert, right, with Sen. Chris Coons in the middle, at the State of the Union in 2014. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Sens. Charles E. Grassley, left, chats with Rep. Louie Gohmert, right, with Sen. Chris Coons in the middle, at the State of the Union in 2014. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

This year there are more defensible rationales than ever for members of Congress to miss the State of the Union address. But there doesn’t seem to be any groundswell of absenteeism in the works.

The seventh year is only exceeded by the eighth as the nadir of any president’s influence — especially when, as with Barack Obama and all four previous two-term presidents, his party controls neither half of Congress. Full story

December 8, 2014

Truce in ‘Nuclear’ Filibuster War May Be Senate GOP’s Best Option (Video)

McConnell, seen here during Sen. Ted Cruz's filibuster ahead of the 2013 government shutdown, has a decision to make about the nuclear option. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

McConnell, seen here during Sen. Ted Cruz’s 2013 filibuster before the government shutdown, has a decision to make on the nuclear option. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Beyond the sort of brinkmanship that always grabs public attention in the waning hours of the legislative year, one story out of Congress is going to fascinate the insiders and may infuriate the institutionalists.

Senate Republicans will meet Tuesday to debate what to do about the filibuster after they take over the place in four weeks. Will they make good on a threat to double-down on the “nuclear option” exercised by the Democrats, which would mean neutralizing the filibuster as a tool for stopping legislation in addition to nominations? Will they do the opposite and declare themselves totally magnanimous, proposing to return the rules to the way they were so the Democrats might begin leveraging the historic power of the minority? Or will they go to neither extreme and acquiesce in the new normal?

Full story

December 4, 2014

Obama’s Push for Political Ambassadors Reaching Lame-Duck Limit

Baucus is the ambassador to China. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Baucus is the ambassador to China. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Perhaps the last important contribution Max Baucus made to the culture of the Senate, where he spent 35 years, was to offer a blunt truth before becoming the American envoy in Beijing.

“I’m no real expert on China,” the Montana Democrat confessed during the January hearing on his nomination to be ambassador to the nation with the most people and the biggest economy in the world. But six days later, his colleagues voted, 96-0, to confirm him anyway.

The candor of that episode offered a glimpse into a debate that’s been underway for a century, and which brewed in the background all year before bubbling into public view this week. What should be the limit on a president’s ability to use ambassadorships as rewards for his political allies?

Full story

November 17, 2014

This Democrat Could Be the McConnell Whisperer

(Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Biden: The McConnell whisperer? (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

The next two years may be when Joe gets his last, best chance to help run the show.

Joseph R. Biden Jr. is preparing to celebrate his 72nd birthday next week and has been sending really mixed signals about where he’d like to take his career in 2016. But regardless of whether he decides to launch his third uphill campaign for president, the 47th vice president of the United States is positioned by the force of his experience, personality and circumstance to be among the indispensable players of the 114th Congress.

Several scenarios in the midterm elections could have generated a 50-50 partisan split in the Senate, meaning Biden would have quite literally been trapped at the Capitol next year so he could be counted on to cast tie-breaking votes for his fellow Democrats on a potentially daily basis. (It’s a vice-presidential power he’s never exercised after almost six years on the job; his predecessor Dick Cheney provided the decisive vote for the Republicans eight times in the previous decade.)

Now that Republicans are certain of holding at least 53 (and possibly 54) seats come January, Biden’s telegenic services as presiding officer and deadlock-breaker might never be required. Instead, he may end up with a big reprise of his more consequential vice-presidential role — as the legislative deal-maker-in-chief. Full story

November 6, 2014

5 Things That Could Get Done in a Divided Government

A scene from the McConnell victory party Tuesday in Louisville, Ky. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

A scene from the McConnell victory party in Louisville, Ky. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

Congratulations, all you members-elect. Now, about your freshman years: What is it you expect might actually get accomplished with the help of your “Yes” votes, or despite your presence in the “No” column?

Orientations for the newest senators and representatives, which begin in six days, are the time every two years when the giddy memories of election night celebrating begin to get pushed aside by the sober realities of legislating. And given the certainty that divided government will continue through 2016, most efforts at making meaningful change to federal policy will quickly prove themselves to be Sisyphean tasks.

After four years of gridlock and dysfunction that even the nuclear option could not much dislodge, the Republican gains in the House and the party’s trouncing takeover of the Senate are way short — by themselves — of providing an antidote for the fundamental inability of Congress and President Barack Obama to agree on anything for the history books.

Full story

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