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

Posts in "Culture of Congress"

April 9, 2014

History Lesson for McAllister: Members Caught Pursuing Staffers Never Survive

toyotahearing007 022410 445x296 History Lesson for McAllister: Members Caught Pursuing Staffers Never Survive

McAllister needs only to look to former Rep. Mark Souder of Indiana to see how Republican leadership deals with members’ affairs with staffers. (CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Rep. Vance McAllister is showing every sign he’s hunkering down in hopes of saving his nascent political life. But recent House history signals that it’s going to be a futile pursuit.

His troubles are unique in one respect — no member in modern history has seen his congressional career beset by scandal so quickly. It was just 137 days from when McAllister was sworn in to represent northeastern Louisiana, the Republican winner of a special election, to the release of grainy security camera footage of him in an 18-second lip lock with someone who is not his wife.

But Melissa Hixon Peacock is not simply a 33-year-old married woman caught canoodling with a 40-year-old congressman. Back when they were making out just before Christmas, and until Tuesday when she left the government payroll (whether voluntarily or not isn’t clear), she was his district scheduler. And that’s what places McAllister in what’s almost assuredly a non-survivable predicament.

In the past eight years, four other men of the House have been exposed for having, or seeming to seek, sexual relationships with congressional aides. None of them stayed in office longer than a couple of weeks.

Several members in the past few decades have (at least for a while) survived their sexual transgressions, substance abuse admissions, financial improprieties or other personal failings. But the punishment for dalliances with staffers has always been a swift political death penalty — no matter whether the behavior was by a Democrat or Republican, straight or gay, consensual or predatory, back home or on the Hill. Full story

April 8, 2014

A Case for Moran: ‘Underpaid’ Is Accurate

moran003 011514 445x298 A Case for Moran: Underpaid Is Accurate

(Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

He’s sounding politically tone deaf, of course, but on the merits Rep. James P. Moran has a solid case to make about congressional compensation.

Social media lit up with ridicule for the suburban Virginia Democrat last week, after he boldly told my colleague Hannah Hess, “The American people should know the members of Congress are underpaid.”

It’s a call to arms that someone running for re-election, even in the safest district, would be a fool to make at a time when the institution’s approval rating stands at a near-record-low 15 percent and the median household income in the United States is less than one-third of a member’s annual salary of $174,000.

Which is why, amid all the howling about how Moran should have his head examined (right after he’s impeached), there’s been precious little interest in understanding the justifiable reasons for such a provocative complaint, let alone what the congressman would do to improve the situation. Full story

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

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

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 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 10, 2014

Where He Really Lives Aside, Sen. Pat Roberts Has Moved to His Right

StopUN 01 031313 445x295 Where He Really Lives Aside, Sen. Pat Roberts Has Moved to His Right

(Chris Maddaloni/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Sen. Pat Roberts might be in additional re-election trouble, thanks to a weekend story in The New York Times that’s generating buzz about how the Republican doesn’t have a home he can call his own in Kansas — but he does have a new case to make about his conservative credentials.

After 16 years in the Senate (and as many years before that in the House) cementing a reputation as an establishment Republican, one driven much less by ideology than by a desire for accomplishment, Roberts tacked hard to the right last year. In fact, among the six members of the Senate Republican Conference facing viable primary challenges, Roberts was unique in this regard: He opposed President Barack Obama much more often than before and also stuck with his party significantly more than he usually does.

The CQ Roll Call vote studies for 2013 found that Roberts voted against the president’s wishes 66 percent of the time, 6 points higher than the Senate GOP average. During Obama’s first term, the senator’s presidential opposition averaged 55 percent.

At the same time, Roberts toed the party line on 99 percent of the votes in which most Republicans voted the opposite way from most Democrats. That nearly perfect measure of loyalty was 13 points higher than the average Senate GOP party unity mark; it also was 8 points higher than Roberts’ average for the first four years of his current term.

Full story

February 4, 2014

Vote Studies Show Double-Sided Numbers for Senate’s ‘Red State Four’

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Pryor voted against Obama more often than any other Senate Democrat last year. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

During the 2008 presidential campaign, Barack Obama cited a single number again and again in warning that John McCain was not the sort of change agent the country needed: His Senate colleague and presidential opponent had voted with President George W. Bush 95 percent of the time.

The figure was plucked from the database of CQ Roll Call vote studies, a treasure trove for opposition researchers since the annual assessment of congressional voting patterns began in the early 1950s. And the number — accurate only for the previous year, when McCain tacked right in his pursuit of the Republican nomination — was seen as plenty effective in puncturing the Arizona senator’s reputation as a centrist maverick.

The selective marshaling of statistics is a necessary skill for politicians as much as it is for policymakers. And the work has been gearing up in recent weeks, as the landscape for the midterm elections becomes more clearly defined and the first congressional primaries (in Texas) loom in only a month.

A plurality of the attention is already focused, and looks destined to remain, on the quartet of Democratic senators running for re-election in states that Mitt Romney carried in 2012, because how well they fare will go a long way toward determining if Senate control switches to the GOP next year. And so plenty of scrutiny is being given to the glass-half-full, or glass-half-empty, nature of what our 2013 vote studies reveal about how loyal they’re being to both Obama and their party line. Full story

February 3, 2014

Tea Party Class More Confrontational Than Ever

The atmospherics offered plenty of clues, but the numbers don’t lie: The House was an even more polarized and partisan place last year than it was when the tea party class of Republicans took over the place two years before. And that’s in part because those lawmakers have grown even more antagonistic to President Barack Obama’s agenda — and even more willing to toe the party line.

That is among the central takeaways from CQ Roll Call’s analysis of 2013 congressional voting patterns, the latest installment in an annual study that began six decades ago.

While Obama got his way on 57 percent of the congressional votes on which he staked a position, a fifth-year success rate exceeded only by George W. Bush among the past four re-elected presidents, that was almost entirely because of a record amount of support from his Democratic colleagues running the Senate.

In the House, Obama had his way on just 21 percent of the votes he clearly cared about, and that was because the average member of the Republican majority voted his way only 12 percent of the time, the smallest measure of presidential support any caucus has ever recorded for a Democratic president.

Twelve percent was also the exact amount of support Obama received from the 65 members who remain from the Class of 2010. (Eighty GOP members who had never before served in Congress were elected that year.) But it’s notable that the median went down a whopping 9 points since 2011, the first year those lawmakers were in Washington.

In other words, the group who voted against Obama 4 out of 5 times as brand-new freshmen disagreed with him 7 out of 8 times as first-year sophomores. The substance of the votes taken over the two years was different, so I can’t make a precise apples-to-apples comparison. But the trend would seem to contradict a conventional wisdom about the modern Congress: Even those who arrive with the most revolutionary fervor tend to buff away some of their roughest ideological edges after a couple of years.

In fact, 30 of those elected in the tea party wave saw their presidential support scores decline by more than 10 points from 2011 to 2013, suggesting that many have concluded they are safe in shifting their voting patterns further to the right now that they have secured their first re-election. Full story

January 27, 2014

Seat Scramble for Big Speech Loses Its Crossover Appeal

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In 2011, Republicans and Democrats arranged to sit side by side at the State of the Union as a gesture of bipartisan goodwill. (Scott J. Ferrell/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Seems like “date night” just isn’t a thing anymore.

Three years ago, many dozens of Republicans and Democrats arranged to sit side by side at the State of the Union. The break with decades of tradition was orchestrated in hopes of persuading the country that civil discourse and bipartisan collegiality had gained renewed value in Congress after the assassination attempt on Rep. Gabrielle Giffords.

The roster of cross-aisle seating arrangements remained plenty big the next year, but there was a noticeable falloff in 2013. And, unless the situation changes in the last hours before President Barack Obama arrives at the Capitol on Tuesday, spotting crossover seatmates in the House chamber looks to be a genuinely difficult task this year.

The putative tradition, like the annual House “civility retreats” more than a decade ago, looks to be fading toward oblivion. The soft ending nonetheless underscores how the bilious nature of today’s congressional culture can slowly poison even the most benignly symbolic and fleetingly telegenic gestures toward cultivating common ground.

A survey of two dozen senators, all of whom connected with senators of the other party in 2012, found only four couples volunteering plans for keeping the custom alive on Tuesday night.

Full story

January 22, 2014

The Real ‘American Hustle’: Could Abscam 7 Happen Today?

In a year when the label “worst Congress ever” is being invoked as never before, a movie about the most over-the-top corruption scandal in congressional history is topping the roster of Oscar contenders.

But will that prove to be bad luck, or a bit of good fortune, for the Capitol’s currently dismal reputation?

It’s easier to predict that the success of “American Hustle” will reinforce the public perception of the Hill as a metaphorical (and sometimes literal) den of thieves. But it’s possible, and arguably more appropriate, for the audience of voters to come to a somewhat different conclusion: While the lawmaking system may have become deeply frozen by partisanship during the past three decades, the baseline for congressional morality actually looks to have gotten a bit better since then.

Of course, there remains the expansive and minimally regulated gray area in which campaign contributions cross paths with legislative interests, with the best-connected lobbyists always figuring out ways to enjoy insider access to the lawmakers who matter most. And a dozen or more allegations against members, most of them relatively petty, are moving through the ethics process at any time. But only twice in the past decade (Republican Rep. Duke Cunningham of California in 2005 and Democratic Rep. William Jefferson of Louisiana in 2009) have members been convicted for taking straight-up bribes.

There’s a persuasive argument to be made that corruption at the Capitol has decreased because sunshine on lawmaker behavior has increased. Self-policing by Congress, though improved a bit in recent years, is only partly responsible. Sharing the credit are investigative journalists, government watchdog groups, the new monitors of social media — and also the old-line purveyors of the popular culture.

So the film’s director, David O. Russell, should be credited with performing a valuable, if unintended, public service, along with spinning a terrifically entertaining and financially successful caper yarn. (It has been nominated for 10 Oscars, including Best Picture. Already the winner of the Golden Globe for Best Comedy and the Screen Actors Guild’s Best Ensemble prize, “Hustle” has taken in $117 million after six weekends in theaters.) Full story

January 14, 2014

Hill Budget’s Fine Print: Less Than Meets the Skeptic’s Eye

snow 007 010314 445x296 Hill Budgets Fine Print: Less Than Meets the Skeptics Eye

(Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

That 19th-century aphorism “figures don’t lie, but liars will figure” comes to mind when poring over the mind-numbingly comprehensive midyear appropriations package — especially the 44 pages covering the political minefields and minutiae of spending on the legislative branch.

The nation’s legions of Congress-haters are scouring the fine print and concocting their own spreadsheets. They are expecting to uncover evidence that what’s labeled Division I of the omnibus is an exercise in deceitful and hypocritical self-dealing — and are confident they’ll be able to argue persuasively that those voting “yes” this week will be guilty of feathering their own nest at the expense of infinitely more pressing national priorities.

They are being urged on by dozens of Capitol Hill’s own current stewards. These most conservative Republican senators and House members are all too eager to demean the institution in which they work — especially when doing so serves as rationale for opposing a bill with a tough-to-comprehend bottom line cresting $1.1 trillion.

With a couple of narrow exceptions, the naysayers look to be quite disappointed. Full story

January 10, 2014

An Ethics Conflict Avoidance Period?

Biggert 04 110609 235x335 An Ethics Conflict Avoidance Period?

Biggert was named to the board of the Office of Congressional Ethics. (CQ Roll Call File Photo)

This week’s belated appointment of two new board members for the Office of Congressional Ethics suggests the independent watchdog agency is approaching the sixth anniversary of its creation with a fading shroud of controversy.

Judy Biggert, a Republican member of the House Ethics Committee during a particularly charged period, from 2001 through 2006, was Speaker John A. Boehner’s pick for the GOP opening. Biggert, who lost her bid in 2012 for an eighth term representing the Chicago suburbs, played a central role in the investigations and admonitions that led to the eventual downfall of her own majority leader, Tom DeLay, and in the investigation that found her leadership inattentive to House pages’ allegations of sexual advances by a GOP colleague, Florida’s Mark Foley.

Belinda Pinckney, an executive consultant and retired brigadier general, was chosen by Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi for the Democratic opening. Pinckney’s final military job, from 2007 to 2010, was as the Army’s top diversity officer. Earlier in her career, she was on the Pentagon’s team of liaisons to the Appropriations committees.

They are replacing a pair of former House members, Minnesota Republican Bill Frenzel and California Democrat Yvonne Brathwaite Burke, who had been on the board since the start but had been due for replacements for the past year. Five other original members remain, and look to do so for at least another year.

The office was created in 2008 to fulfill a Pelosi campaign promise — to “drain the swamp of corruption” at the Capitol — that was made on the way to winning House control in the previous midterm. The premise was to reduce the perception that the foxes were guarding the hen house in the House’s ethics process. So they turned some of the process over to an independent, bipartisan and knowledgeable panel, which would take on the initial job of reviewing and investigating allegations of misconduct by members and staff — and referring credible matters within three months to the Ethics Committee. That House panel still retains sole power to decide if the chamber’s rules or federal laws were broken and to propose sanctions by the full House. (There is no similar system in the Senate.) 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 10, 2013

Daschle World Is Back at a Zenith, 5 Years Later

For the Washington fantasists who like speculating about what might have happened in policy and politics “if only,” one of the most interesting questions at the moment is this: How would the administration be faring now if only Tom Daschle had properly paid his taxes.

Part of the answer, especially in the past week, has become this: Maybe not all that differently, because so many veterans of his old Senate staff are now packing into the West Wing.

It was five years ago Wednesday that President-elect Barack Obama announced the former majority leader would be returning to government as Health and Human Services secretary, where he would be in charge of drafting legislation overhauling the health care system and then steering it to enactment.

The choice seemed an obvious, but astute, way to boost the likelihood that the new president’s top domestic priority would move through Congress relatively smoothly and quickly, and to assure the bureaucracy would then implement the inevitably complicated changes to medical insurance rules with minimal fuss. Full story

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