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April 19, 2014

Posts in "Congressional Clout"

March 31, 2014

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

levin002 033114 445x295 Camp Out, Rough Week: Michigan Delegation Facing Depleted Hill Clout

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

February 24, 2014

The Dean Is Done: 59 Years Will Be Enough for the Cunning and Complex John Dingell

dingell010 061313 445x297 The Dean Is Done: 59 Years Will Be Enough for the Cunning and Complex John Dingell

(Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

John D. Dingell, the longest-serving member of Congress in American history, and easily the most overpoweringly influential House chairman of this generation, is calling an end to his own era.

A complex and cunning Democrat who is in his 59th year of representing the Detroit area and who will turn 88 in July, Dingell announced Monday that he would retire at the end of the year rather than seek a 30th full term. The news floored the Capitol, where almost no one in the workaday population has known life without his presence.

“Presidents come and presidents go,” President Bill Clinton said in 2005 when the congressman celebrated half a century in office. “John Dingell goes on forever.”

Full story

February 11, 2014

Senate Finance’s New Chairman, Most Liberal Ever, Looks to Start Slow

wyden021114 445x302 Senate Finances New Chairman, Most Liberal Ever, Looks to Start Slow

(Douglas Graham/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

The book on Ron Wyden is that he’s one of the Capitol’s grandest thinkers, with a sprawling range of policy interests matched with wonkish expertise, and eager to work outside the box to put a bipartisan stamp on his many big ideas.

All of that may be true, but so is this: On Thursday the Oregon Democrat will become the most liberal chairman in the modern history of the Finance Committee, the most powerful panel in the Senate.

Notwithstanding his many well-publicized feints toward Republicans — on health entitlements reform and tax simplification, trade liberalization and clean energy, foreign surveillance and domestic civil liberties, senatorial secrecy and campaign financing — Wyden remains among the senators most loyal to the mainstream American political left.

His voting record has earned him a 94 percent annual average support score during his Senate career from Americans for Democratic Action and an 88 percent approval level from the AFL-CIO. He’s voted the way President Barack Obama wanted 97 percent of the time in the past five years, CQ Roll Call’s congressional vote studies found. And he’s stuck with his side on 97 percent of votes that fell mostly along party lines during his 18 years as a senator — a time period when the annual Senate Democratic party unity score was 11 points below that. Full story

February 2, 2014

Sober Look at the Depth Chart Intensifies for House Democrats

waxman013014 445x286 Sober Look at the Depth Chart Intensifies for House Democrats

(Douglas Graham/CQ Roll Call)

With the departure of Henry A. Waxman, the seventh member of his caucus to announce retirement, Democrats will be saying farewell to more than a century and a half of House experience come January. Potential losses by just a couple of veterans in tough midterm races would cost the party six more decades of expertise.

The evolving brain drain has observers of Congress asking several questions: Who in the Democratic Caucus is ready to join the party’s legislative power players? Is that new generation going to be dominated by bipartisan deal-makers or liberal ideologues? Will seniority fade as a predictor of prominence? When will the collective grip of Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi’s team start to slip? How many topflight legislators will be willing to labor at the margins until the Democrats retake the House, given that their next solid shot might not come until the next decade?

The internal dynamics are fluid enough that few clear answers are apparent, and the most adept and ambitious House Democrats are savvy enough to know it’s too early for open boasting about why they should move up the depth chart.

But their legislative top tier is undeniably on the backside of a generational changeover. Full story

January 13, 2014

Will Miller’s Exit Leave Pelosi Too Lonely at the Top?

pelosimillerclyburn011314 445x296 Will Millers Exit Leave Pelosi Too Lonely at the Top?

Is the retirement of Miller, center, a sign that Pelosi, left, is considering leaving Congress soon as well? (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

The long list of George Miller’s prominent official titles being unfurled is a reminder of why he is easily the most important member of the current Congress who has announced a retirement.

But his informal position — at the very center of  Nancy Pelosi’s inner circle — makes Monday’s news of his planned departure especially consequential.

Miller has been her uniquely influential patron, confidant, consigliere, travel buddy and liberal soul mate during the past three decades. More than any other lawmaker, he made and has maintained his fellow Californian’s hold on power in the House Democratic Caucus. Full story

January 8, 2014

The Other Reed Begins to See His Senate Spotlight Brighten

Unemployment Benefits 14 010814 445x310 The Other Reed Begins to See His Senate Spotlight Brighten

Reed attended a news conference on jobless benefits Wednesday. (Douglas Graham/CQ Roll Call)

If January’s award for biggest out-of-the-shadows move by a Senate Republican goes to Michael B. Enzi, then the companion prize for a Democrat must surely be given to Jack Reed.

Rhode Island’s senior senator takes such a somber and studious approach to his work that his name comes up as often as not at the Capitol in homonymous confusion with the majority leader. But not this week, when Reed is near the center of three of the new year’s biggest stories.

He’s the most visible face of the Democrats’ unexpected success in getting the Senate debate started on the renewal of expired jobless benefits for as many as 1.3 million of the long-term unemployed. Just out of view, he’s among the handful of senior appropriators (he chairs the Interior-Environment subpanel) working to shrink the roster of policy disputes so $1 trillion in spending decisions might get done close to on time.

And the new memoir by Robert Gates, with its surprisingly harsh criticism of President Barack Obama’s leadership and his commitment to the war in Afghanistan, is a reminder that Obama more than once seriously considered making Reed his secretary of Defense.

To top it off, the 64-year-old senator got a dollop of cute coverage Tuesday — a Washington Post “Reliable Source” item about being spotted with his 7-year-old daughter, Emily, at last weekend’s Kennedy Center matinee of the holiday musical “Elf.”

The multifaceted nature of Reed’s arrival in the spotlight is partly an accident of timing, combined with the unusual breadth of his topflight committee assignments and his increasing seniority.

It’s also a testament to how he’s something of a progressive liberal version of the conservative Enzi, a fellow member of the Senate Class of 1996 whose power profile is likely to grow in the coming year: Both are long on commitment to their ideological beliefs, but short of interest in spewing partisan animus; serious about pursuing their policy homework, but with a way-below-average level of senatorial self-importance; more interested in getting what they want out of hearings and legislative negotiations than in getting interviewed by the cable TV networks. Full story

January 7, 2014

Cheney’s Exit Is the Buzz, but Enzi’s Future Is the Story

enzi 049 071013 445x280 Cheneys Exit Is the Buzz, but Enzis Future Is the Story

Enzi is likely to return to the Capitol a year from now as one of its most adept and best-positioned legislative forces. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Few would argue that Michael B. Enzi ought to be the happiest guy in Congress this week.

As a practical matter, he’s just become the first of the 27 senators seeking new terms in 2014 to win re-election. Now that Liz Cheney has backed out of her GOP primary challenge, Enzi is as close as there is in politics to a sure bet to win his fourth term in solidly Republican Wyoming.

Once that happens, Enzi will be in position to return to the Capitol a year from now as one of its most adept and best positioned legislative forces, especially if his party has reclaimed control after eight years in the minority.

Enzi is not only unimpeachable from the right — as the former vice president’s daughter was belatedly starting to figure out — but he is also among the relatively few proven deal-makers in a Congress characterized by hardened ideological standoffs. The self-effacing nature suggested by his back story — he’s the only accountant, the only computer programmer and the only former shoe salesman in the Senate — comes off as the real thing in the daily legislative grind, where Enzi gains bipartisan admiration as an anchor tenant on the more virtuous end of the work horse to show horse spectrum.

In short, his low-profile but high-impact style of conservatism looks to be an essential piece of the Senate Republican strategic game plan for the rest of the decade, especially whenever his side is looking to strike a deal with the Democrats on domestic policy.

Enzi is not only positioned to make the most of it, but sounds determined to do so. “If you’re not at the table, you’re on the menu,” is one of his favored cowboy aphorisms. Full story

December 18, 2013

With His BFF Leaving, Is Boehner Eyeing the Exit, Too?

boehner121813 445x296 With His BFF Leaving, Is Boehner Eyeing the Exit, Too?

(Douglas Graham/CQ Roll Call)

With the postmortems of this year’s biggest congressional events winding down, it’s not too early to start forecasting the top Hill stories of the year ahead.

Whatever happens in the career of John A. Boehner is sure to make the list.

If he makes good on his own current assertions by securing a third consecutive term as speaker of the House, that will be one of the more notable events at the Capitol in 2014. That’s because it would seal a total turnabout from the shaky hold he had on his power only a few weeks ago and would mean he’s engineered an uneasy truce in the Republican Party’s war with itself.

If he says he wants to stay in the top job, and his colleagues turn him down, that would be an enormously bigger deal. That’s because it would mark yet another reversal of his fortunes, no speaker has been turned out by his own colleagues in more than a century, and such an insurrection would mean the GOP’s ideological civil war would surely rage on.

But if he calls it quits, by relinquishing the speaker’s gavel or maybe even his congressional district in southwestern Ohio, that would be an outcome somewhere between those first two on the importance continuum. (All of these scenarios are predicated on the safe prediction that the GOP will retain control of the House for the 114th Congress.) While such a decision would assure a fascinating fight for the caucus leadership, it would say less about the party’s future than about Boehner’s fascinatingly evolving personality.

Still, it’s the “Boehner is about to hang it up” narrative that’s captivated the rumor mill this week. That talk is based on only one new piece of information, albeit an extremely important one: Tom Latham is retiring. Full story

December 13, 2013

Obama Replaces His Hill Lobbyist With a Senate Veteran

President Barack Obama replaced his chief lobbyist on Capitol Hill today, concluding that his legislative affairs director for the past year had lost the confidence of too many congressional Democrats and made minimal inroads with the Republicans.

Katie Beirne Fallon will be the fourth person Obama has had in the job. She’s been working in the West Wing as the president’s deputy communications director only since the summer. Before that, she was a top aide to Sen. Charles. E. Schumer of New York, serving as staff director of the Senate Democratic Policy and Communications Center.

In that post, the 37-year-old Fallon won effusive praise from both Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif. And White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough presumably picked her because she is plugged in to the Democratic leadership on the Hill, which will play the central role in shepherding whatever low-impact legislative agenda the president pushes in 2014. Full story

December 4, 2013

Purse Strings Passed to a Different Sort of Republican

roby graves 056 100413 445x289 Purse Strings Passed to a Different Sort of Republican

Roby, center, was one of three new conservatives named to the House Appropriations panel Wednesday. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

Three weeks ago, and thanks mainly to the seniority system, an unusual midyear rearrangement of the House Appropriations power structure produced promotions for a quartet of relatively moderate and old-school Republicans.

But on Wednesday, when three vacancies were filled on the committee that decides where the money goes, the winners were a decidedly different sort: Martha Roby of Alabama, Mark Amodei of Nevada and Chris Stewart of Utah are all small-government conservatives from the legion of tea-party-inspired newcomers who have secured control over the House GOP’s ideological center of gravity.

All of them voted against Speaker John A. Boehner’s wishes on both of the most politically important spending votes of this year. Each not only opposed the January legislation delivering an expansive (but not offset) package of recovery and reconstruction aid to Hurricane Sandy victims but also voted against the October bill ending the partial government shutdown and raising the debt ceiling with no anti-Obamacare strings attached.

Yet all have remained in decent favor with their GOP elders, because they’ve steered clear of the boldest confrontational tactics espoused by their most tea-party-infused colleagues.

At the same time, they’ve all branded themselves back home — where their districts are deep red — as so reliably conservative that they have no worries about primary challenges from the right.

For all those reasons, the selection of the trio suggests the Republican leadership is looking to cultivate a different breed for the next generation of appropriators: members with unimpeachable but not melodramatic commitments to fiscal discipline, with enough insider savvy to compensate for a bit of an independent streak, and with a willingness to devote their House careers to the tough trade-offs required in thinning both domestic and defense programs. Full story

September 19, 2013

DeLay Wins Appeal of Charges That Forced Him From GOP Pinnacle

Tom DeLay was preparing to make a triumphant return to the Capitol this afternoon, hours after his political corruption conviction was overturned by a Texas appeals court.

The former House majority leader is in town this week by coincidence, and was already planning to have lunch with his former Republican colleagues in the Texas delegation.

The Texas 3rd Court of Appeals decided 2-1 this morning to set aside DeLay’s 2010 conviction for money laundering and declare him acquitted. The majority said the evidence in the case was “legally insufficient to sustain DeLay’s convictions.”

The charges were connected to an alleged scheme to illegally funnel corporate money to state legislative candidates in 2002, when DeLay was at the height of his congressional influence as “The Hammer.” He sought to expand his hold on power by engineering a GOP takeover of the state House in Austin, which would then lead to a more Republican-friendly reconfiguring of the state’s congressional map.

The effort worked in the short term; the GOP gained six seats in Texas under the reconfigured boundaries in 2004. But DeLay’s hold on power began to unravel right after that election cycle.

He was admonished later that year by the House Ethics Committee for an array of transgressions, weakening his ability to combine political intensity and political persuasiveness to get what he wanted. The next year he was forced to step aside as majority leader after his indictment on the money laundering charges, and in early 2006 he resigned altogether after one of his closest allies on K Street, Jack Abramoff, pleaded guilty and started cooperating with a federal investigation of lawmaker-lobbyist relationships.

It was DeLay’s departure that created the opening that allowed John A. Boehner, R-Ohio, to return to the leadership.

DeLay had been sentenced to three years in state prison but remained free while he mounted a vigorous appeal, which included successfully getting one of the original judges assigned to hear the appeal removed because of anti-Republican sentiments she’d expressed.

In July 2012, DeLay filed paperwork to lobby for Argus Global LLC on sex-trafficking issues, according to records tracked by our sister blog, Political MoneyLine.

July 2, 2013

Bill Gray, First Black in the Congressional Leadership, Dead at 71

billgray070213 445x289 Bill Gray, First Black in the Congressional Leadership, Dead at 71

A portrait of Gray, right, hangs in the cloakroom behind the Budget Committee meeting room. (Scott J. Ferrell/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

William H. Gray III, who as House majority whip from 1989 to 1991 was the first African-American ever in the top tier of congressional leadership, died on Monday.

He was 71 and was in London with one of his children to attend the Wimbledon tennis tournament.

A third-generation Baptist minister, Gray unseated a veteran incumbent and fellow Democrat in 1978 to become central Philadelphia’s congressman. He held the seat with ease while advancing in power and prestige until his surprise resignation in the summer of 1991, when he left to take over the United Negro College Fund. During his 13 years in that job, after which he started his own lobbying shop, the fund raised $2.3 billion in scholarship money. Full story

May 21, 2013

Oklahoma’s Clout Tested by Tornado Aid Divide

Nothing tests a state’s congressional delegation — its cohesion as well as its influence — like the response to a natural disaster back home.

Just as soon as constituents get safely away from the destruction and beyond their shock, they expect their lawmakers in Washington to deliver aid without limit and without delay.

That will be the test for the two senators and five representatives from Oklahoma — all Republicans — even though President Barack Obama declared this morning that the state “needs to get everything it needs, right away” to recover and rebuild after Monday’s destructive and deadly tornado.

The trouble is this: The delegation is split between budgetary centrists and fiscal hawks, and it’s the latter point of view that dominates. Full story

May 7, 2013

Hill Clout: 4 Big Underperforming States, Plus a Pair of Overperformers

It makes intuitive sense that the states with the most people, which means the largest congressional delegations, tend to have the most influence over national lawmaking and the federal purse strings.

The formula for the Roll Call Clout Index was designed to reflect that notion, with its emphasis on the number of lawmakers each state has at the Capitol, their seniority and assignments to leadership positions and the most powerful committees.

It would be tough for California, by far the most populous state since the first clout study back in 1990, to finish in a spot other than No. 1 — and it never has. It’s big enough that seven of its House members sit on the Appropriations Committee and their share of the panel’s seats (14 percent) is only slightly ahead of the their share of the national population they represent (12 percent).

Size and stability also mean that in the index for the 113th Congress, out this week, the delegations from Texas, New York, Florida and Michigan also continued to hold spots — that they’ve never yielded — in the top 10, and Pennsylvania re-entered that tier after a time away.

But the delegations from four of the 10 most populous states underperformed in the new study — most significantly, the team from Illinois, which at 12.9 million residents is the fifth biggest state, but which dropped seven notches since its 2011 and 2009 rankings. Illinois is now No. 17 in overall clout. Full story

May 6, 2013

9 States Swoon and Surge in Capitol Hill Clout

Amassing seniority and keeping plenty of members in the party in power are two of the most important things a state can do to bulk up its influence in Congress.

Both have been difficult feats for plenty of states recently, given the shift of House control in 2010, the reapportionment and redistricting that soon followed and the much-higher-than-normal departure of 28 senators in the past two elections.

Which is why it’s not a real surprise that this year’s Roll Call Clout Index shows a significant scrambling of the pecking order since Barack Obama’s presidency began in 2009. Some states are seeing surges in their potential for influence, while others are looking at throw weights in precipitous decline.

As mentioned in this space recently, the sudden ascent of Louisiana — which now has the fourth-most-potent delegation after finishing in the low 30s in the previous two studies — was central to the story of the year, which is that the Gulf Coast region has more collective power than any other region. Meanwhile, Massachusetts, which for two decades had routinely finished in the top 10, slipped down to 20th just as the Boston Marathon bombings were putting the state in the national spotlight.

But those delegations were hardly alone in seeing reversals of fortune in the past four years. In part because of generational turnovers in their delegations, four other states besides Massachusetts have seen their spots in the rankings drop by double digits between 2009 and this spring, while new positions of power and surges in federal spending have caused three other states besides Louisiana to jump more than 10 positions. Full story

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