Roll Call: Latest News on Capitol Hill, Congress, Politics and Elections
April 25, 2014

Posts in "Campaigns & Elections"

April 16, 2014

‘Lying in Politics’ Plaintiffs Go on Offense in Several New States

The lead plaintiff in the “Can you lie in politics?” case going before the Supreme Court next week, anti-abortion group Susan B. Anthony List, says Ohio’s law against false campaign assertions will stifle that state’s midterm congressional debates.

The group is apparently not worried about a similarly chilling effect elsewhere – at least not in four races elsewhere in the country where it’s inserted itself in recent days.

Over the weekend, the SBA List said it has arranged to put space on billboards across three Southern states to lambaste a trio of incumbent Democratic senators in some of the closest Senate races of 2014: Kay Hagan of North Carolina, Mary L. Landrieu of Louisiana and Mark Pryor of Arkansas. Because all of them voted for the 2010 health care overhaul, each of them can fairly be described as supporting federal financing of abortion, the group says, and that will be the central message on the roadside signage. Full story

April 14, 2014

Can You Lie in Politics? Supreme Court Will Decide

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The Supreme Court will consider a case about lying in politics, revisiting a fight from Chabot’s 2010 campaign in Ohio. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

The Supreme Court has made pretty clear that putting your money where your mouth is deserves broad protection as a form of free political speech. The justices are about to consider whether outright lying in a campaign deserves a similar First Amendment shield.

The court’s recent decisions easing the flow of generous campaign contributions already shifted the electoral landscape. If the court finds that even the most patently outrageous statements about candidates may not be barred by law, those two decisions combined could expand the rhetorical battlefield of the midterm elections and raise the attack ad volume as never before.

With Congress in the middle of its spring recess, few if any members are expected to attend the April 22 oral arguments. But they will all surely have their ears tuned for word about the decision, expected by the end of the term in June.

Full story

April 6, 2014

A Landmark Election Ruling, Made by Justices With Minimal Campaign Involvement

scotus 067 100813 445x296 A Landmark Election Ruling, Made by Justices With Minimal Campaign Involvement

The scene at the Supreme Court as justices heard oral arguments in McCutcheon vs. FEC. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

One way of looking at the latest Supreme Court decision speeding the flow of big money into elections — a ruling destined to have a bigger impact on the culture of Congress than anything that happens at the Capitol this year — is that one side’s definition of political reality narrowly prevailed over the other.

Scenarios about the corrupting potential of so many more millions going to candidates, Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. asserted in the controlling opinion, “are either illegal under current campaign finance laws or divorced from reality.”

“In reality,” Justice Stephen G. Breyer countered on behalf of the four dissenters, “the anti-corruption interest that drives Congress to regulate campaign contributions is a far broader, more important interest” than the five-person majority recognizes.

It’s hardly unusual that, after considering the same collection of facts and arguments, the court’s conservative majority declares the glass at least half full, while the liberal minority insists the same vessel is more than half empty. What’s remarkable in this disagreement is how distant the justices are from experiencing the reality of the modern political money system.

On the current court, only Roberts and Justice Elena Kagan have donated to federal candidates or political action committees in the past 16 years, according to the Federal Election Commission database of itemized contributions.

The most obvious reason is that the other seven justices have been sitting somewhere on the federal bench since before 1997, when the FEC began digitizing donation records. And, because of the obvious potential for a conflict of interest, the official code of conduct for United States judges prohibits them from making political contributions.

But that explanation leads directly to one of the longstanding criticism of the modern Supreme Court: It has become so dominated by professional jurists that people who have worked in the political arena have been almost entirely boxed out. Full story

March 31, 2014

Camp Out, Rough Week: Michigan Delegation Facing Depleted Hill Clout

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Levin lamented the retirement of his fellow Michigander, GOP Rep. Dave Camp. They both are opting against seeking re-election this fall. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

It’s shaping up to be a pretty rough week for Michigan. But the blows to its biggest business and its college basketball teams may be only a foretaste of something more consequentially harmful and longer lasting.

The state’s sway at the Capitol is getting ready for a big fall.

Monday’s retirement announcement by Dave Camp, the second-most senior Republican from the state and the chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, added a siren to the warning signs about diminished influence.

For the past quarter-century, the Roll Call Clout Index has gauged the relative strength of every state’s delegation at the start of each Congress. Michigan has remained the eighth most populous state since 1990, but its team of lawmakers has finished as high as fourth in influence several times — and never lower than the current ranking of seventh.

Michigan’s ability to remain anywhere in the Top 10 next year is now seriously imperiled. The size of the delegation (14 House members plus the pair of senators) is not going to shrink again this decade, but downward arrows are blinking red next to all the other quantifiable factors: collective longevity and positioning for power, and influence in leadership and the committee system.

Full story

March 26, 2014

Campaigns, Take Note: Braley’s, Brown’s and McConnell’s Unforced Errors Offer Lessons Aplenty

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Braley at the Iowa State Fair in 2011. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Running gets a lot tougher when you’ve injured yourself. Three topflight Senate candidates are about to find out whether their aspirations have been slowed a bit by a political stubbed toe — or hobbled indefinitely because they’ve shot themselves in the foot.

Within just a few news cycles this week, we saw a trifecta of unforced errors. Ex-Sen. Scott P. Brown volunteered “probably not” when asked if he has the proper credentials to seek a seat in his newly adopted home state of New Hampshire. Rep. Bruce Braley apologized after seeming to gratuitously insult all the farmers in his native Iowa. And Mitch McConnell was forced — twice! — to alter a campaign advertisement because of footage that caused consternation in basketball-crazed Kentucky.

The cluster of incidents underscore several truisms about modern competitive congressional contests: Virtually everything a candidate does or says gets noticed, recorded and repeated. Symbolic snippets that reinforce problematic aspects of a politician’s reputation stand to be remembered more than a dense policy speech or an extensive voting record.

And so those who head out on the stump would do well to adopt the physician’s maxim, “First, do no harm.” Full story

March 23, 2014

Oberweis’ Illinois Senate Bid Testing Theory That Persistence Pays Off

oberweis032114 445x291 Oberweis’ Illinois Senate Bid Testing Theory That Persistence Pays Off

(CQ Roll Call File Photo)

They don’t call him the Milk Dud for nothing, but right now, he is on a little roll.

Jim Oberweis made most of his fortune in the family business, a high-end dairy delivery service and chain of ice cream parlors in Illinois. And in the space of six years in the previous decade, he poured many gallons of his riches into five failed campaigns for high-profile positions — earning not only that enduring nickname, but also the enmity of Republican operatives and officeholders from Capitol Hill to Springfield, Ill.

Now Oberweis has launched his second act in American politics by winning two straight elections. He took an open state Senate seat in the GOP outer suburbs of Chicago in 2012, and last week he claimed the nomination to try and stop Senate Majority Whip Richard J. Durbin from winning a fourth term.

But virtually no one expects Oberweis to extend his winning streak come November. At best, his allies concede, his caustic rhetorical approach and willingness to tap his own bank account could combine to make the fall campaign more expensive and uncomfortable for Durbin. (The Democrat, who counts President Barack Obama as his proudest mentoring achievement, remains favored in a year when the president’s sagging approval is the defining dynamic nationwide.)

And at worst, losing a sixth high-profile election could doom the 67-year-old Oberweis to live with the ridicule that comes with the label “perennial candidate,” no matter what he ends up accomplishing after returning to the state legislature.

Full story

March 17, 2014

Aides Aiming for Pins: Staffers Look to Join 1 in 7 Members Who Have Worked on Hill

jolly 157 031314 445x292 Aides Aiming for Pins: Staffers Look to Join 1 in 7 Members Who Have Worked on Hill

(Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

The newest member of the House, David Jolly, represents more than an early trophy for the Republicans and a vision of worry for the Democrats this midterm election year. For legions of Hill aides in both parties, he’s also a happy reminder that time as a staffer remains one of the best possible resume builders for those who aspire to someday wear a member’s pin.

Jolly’s opponents in Florida’s special House election never tired of affixing to him the epithet Beltway lobbyist, and that’s how he’s made a good living since 2007. But before then he spent almost a dozen years on the staff of his predecessor, the late C.W. Bill Young. He rose from legislative aide right out of college to district director and then general counsel when Young chaired the Appropriations Committee.

At his swearing in last week, Jolly became the 62nd current House member who’s held a paid position as a congressional aide. The same is also true of 14 incumbent senators. In both chambers, that’s one out of seven members.

And the roster looks likely to grow in the 114th Congress. Three somewhat competitive Senate races have candidates who once worked on the Hill, and former aides are solidly in the hunt in a dozen House contests. Thirty more with staff experience are running what appear to be hopeless federal campaigns at the moment, but some of those could still blossom. (None of these figures includes the dozens of members or 2014 candidates who have been Hill interns.)

The numbers underscore what may seem intuitively obvious in the Capitol Hill community: The sort of people who dream about becoming “the principal” will gravitate to employment with the elected officials they want to emulate. And those given an opportunity to conclude, from firsthand experience, that the congressional life’s potential benefits outweigh its manifest frustrations may be more likely to take the candidacy plunge.

Serving as an aide, in other words, is just as obvious a ticket-punching move for a budding career politician as is a judicial clerkship is for someone hoping to end up on the bench. Full story

March 11, 2014

Conventions or Ailing Kids? Bill Trade-Off Not as Simple as It Looks

GOP Convention 478 083012 445x264 Conventions or Ailing Kids? Bill Trade Off Not as Simple as It Looks

(Chris Maddaloni/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

When the options are promising more funding for sick children or preserving the funding for booze and balloons at political conventions, the choice should be about as obvious as it ever gets in Congress.

Which might be why the Senate didn’t even need to call the roll Tuesday morning. Instead, a quick voice vote was all it took to clear legislation (for President Barack Obama’s certain signature) that would end taxpayer subsidies for the presidential nominating conventions — and declare the $126 million saved during the next decade should be spent researching pediatric cancer and other childhood disorders.

The bill was hailed by its Republican authors, and plenty of Democrats, as a compassionately conservative, common-sense application of Robin Hood’s principal. That would be taking from those who appear to be rich (the political parties, businesses and civic leaders who have used the federal money to cover much of the costs of recent gatherings) and giving to those who appear to be needy (the National Institutes of Health’s budget has flat-lined in recent years, complicating its ability to tackle new studies).

But it’s a bit more complicated than that — at both ends of the trade-off. Full story

March 10, 2014

Florida Tossup Tests Patterns for Special Elections

Representative elect Katherine Clark 37 121213 445x296 Florida Tossup Tests Patterns for Special Elections

Clark is among the many women who came to the House via a special election. Will the same hold true for Sink in a Florida special election Tuesday? (Douglas Graham/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Whatever the outcome of Tuesday’s tight congressional contest in Tampa Bay, this footnote is assured: The winner will become the 64th person in the current House first sent to the Capitol by a special election. That’s an astonishing 15 percent of the membership.

Florida’s contest between Democrat Alex Sink and Republican David Jolly is the year’s first valid test of midterm voter sentiment, but at the historical edges it’s something more: an opportunity to see whether women and Democrats continue their run of good fortune when the voters go to the polls in between the even-numbered Novembers.

The campaign in suburban St. Petersburg, a swing district held for four decades by the late GOP Rep. C.W. Bill Young, has encapsulated themes that look to remain prominent across the country for the next eight months. Jolly, a lobbyist and former top aide to Young, would portray his win as a repudiation of the 2010 health care law and the Obama administration agenda. Sink, a former chief financial officer for Florida, would portray her victory as a rejection of conservative efforts to curb Social Security and otherwise rend the social safety net.

And the losing party is sure to downplay the result and insist the election is not a national harbinger, while clamoring to improve its positioning for the contest for the very same seat in November.

Recent history suggests that task would be an uphill climb: 85 percent of special-election winners so far in the 21st century have won at least two subsequent general elections. (Only six have been turned away after such short careers, most recently a pair of Democrats in 2012 whose districts were significantly redrawn after their initial arrivals: Kathy Hochul, who represented upstate New York for 19 months, and Mark Critz, who held his southwestern Pennsylvania seat for one term and seven months.) Full story

March 4, 2014

The Real Story of Texas GOP Primaries: Democratic Turnout

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Rep. Joaquin Castro signs the cover of an issue of Texas Monthly which shows him, his brother San Antonio Mayor Julian Castro and Davis. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Parsing the Republican results from this year’s first-in-the-nation Texas primaries will surely dominate Wednesday’s political talk. The media will ask how nettlesome Rep. Steve Stockman’s challenge to Sen. John Cornyn proved to be and which of the 23 House members seeking re-election got the biggest scare? How easy was it for state Attorney General Greg Abbott to secure the gubernatorial nomination?

The answers are important because they are 2014’s initial number-based assessment about the current state of the fight between the solidly conservative Republicans and the extraordinarily conservative Republicans — a battle that’s still clearly shaping the party’s national fortunes in the short term.

But in terms of predicting the GOP’s long-term prospects, the more important data may be generated by the Democrats. How many turn out for their generally low-impact contests Tuesday will offer a big clue about the speed at which Texas will be shifting from solid red to bright purple.

Big political change in the state is coming as inevitably as so many of the winter storms that have hobbled the capital this year — but the precise timing of its arrival is similarly difficult to forecast. Full story

March 2, 2014

5 Reasons This Supposedly Boring Budget Year Could Be Anything But

Budget 10 041013 409x335 5 Reasons This Supposedly Boring Budget Year Could Be Anything But

The 2013 budget release frenzy. (Douglas Graham/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

The budget President Barack Obama sends to Congress on Tuesday will be a month late and hundreds of billions of dollars short.

But no matter, the Capitol’s conventional wisdom holds, that the unenforced legal deadline for his submission was Feb. 3, and that he’ll propose acquiescing in significant deficits for the indefinite future. A truce has been called in the fiscal wars, the thinking goes, and so Obama’s fiscal 2015 document will be little more than the ritualistic starting point for the most desultory budget debate of this decade.

In the big picture, that is the way it looks to play out. But there are several secondary policymaking and political storylines that could make the budget beat interesting in 2014.

The reasons it’s supposed to be a snooze are by now well understood: The rare bipartisan budget deal reached and ratified in December decided the grand total for discretionary spending in the coming year, so there’s minimal reason for an appropriations deadlock. The latest debt limit extension has locked away that particular countdown clock until well after the elections. That means there’s no new fiscal cliff in sight, allowing both Obama and top Republicans to set aside their last, best offers in pursuit of a grand bargain on deficit reduction.

These are five subplots most worth watching. Full story

February 25, 2014

Debbie Dingell Eyes a Curious Glass Ceiling in Readying House Run

ford statue007 050311 445x296 Debbie Dingell Eyes a Curious Glass Ceiling in Readying House Run

(Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

If Debbie Dingell wins the campaign she’s formally launching on Friday — a solid if not quite certain bet — she’ll make history in more than the obvious way.

She would be keeping one House seat in the same family well into a ninth decade, but would also become the first person to ever come to Congress as the successor to a living spouse.

That might sound like an amazing distinction to modern ears, given how control over accounting firms, law offices, medical practices and other small businesses now pass relatively routinely to the younger half of a married couple when the older person (usually the husband) tires of the daily grind. And in Washington, D.C., of course, the dominant political story is whether Hillary Rodham Clinton will end up getting the same government job her husband had for eight years.

But congressional political dynamics have proved remarkably resistant to this sort of evolution in family and gender roles. Full story

February 5, 2014

Republican Hedges His Bets by Targeting House Seats in 4 States

There have been a fair share of congressional carpetbaggers in history, but Allan Levene may be the first to assemble an entire set of matched luggage. And he’s using it to run this year for no fewer than four open House seats in four different states.

In a year when the roster of candidates is filled with the usual collection of career politicians, war veterans, minor celebrities and hard-luck cases, Levene stands apart. He’s a 64-year-old information technology expert, financial planner and sometime inventor who is “willing to offer myself up wherever required” in order to get to Washington — because he’s so convinced of his aptitude as a policymaker, so concerned about his life expectancy and so worried about his country.

“I simply cannot stand aside,” Levene declared during an expansive 30-minute conversation with me on his cellphone Wednesday morning. “I am ready to strike a chord, and I believe I will.”

To make a fascinating story short, what he amply manifests in ego and aspiration he totally lacks in political acumen. He doesn’t stand a chance in Minnesota, Michigan, Hawaii or Georgia, where he’s actually lived for the past three decades. Full story

November 25, 2013

Politics as Family Business: When Bad Moods Trump Big Dynasties

What’s up with the family business is a perennial default conversation starter at so many Thanksgiving dinners. And that’s likely to be especially true around the tables of families in the business of winning federal campaigns.

From the three-years-away handicapping of the next presidential race to the premature speculation about who might fill a possible opening in the House, a big share of campaign talk these days is once again about American political dynasties — their virtues and flaws, staying powers and limitations, rising stars and fading forces. Full story

November 11, 2013

Convention City Wannabes Are Rehearsing Their Pitches for 2016

Darkness after work. Freeze warnings at night. Congress looking likely to work until close to Christmas, then return just a week into January. Staff and member travel clipped by the sequester. And an off-year election jump-starting the next presidential race earlier than ever.

No wonder that not-so-idle Capitol Hill speculation has already started about which two buffed-up and generous cities might get to welcome the Washington diaspora in the summer of 2016. That’s when thousands of lawmakers, aides, lobbyists, money chasers, journalists and functionaries are counting on at least one expense-account-funded week of networking and partying. Full story

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