Roll Call: Latest News on Capitol Hill, Congress, Politics and Elections
April 27, 2015

Posts in "Culture of Congress"

April 26, 2015

Signs of Life, but Don’t Expect Bipartisan Bloom

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Don’t expect this to happen much this year. (Mandel Ngan/Getty Images)

If there was ever a sound reason for a congressional leader from one party to plant a kiss on the cheek of a leader from the other side, it was in the Rose Garden last week.

Solving a multibillion-dollar problem that bedeviled Congress for a dozen years (inadequate Medicare reimbursements to physicians) is the only genuinely important bipartisan achievement of the 114th Congress to date. When Speaker John A. Boehner smooched a beaming House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi at a celebratory reception hosted by President Barack Obama, it was a visual cue about the extraordinary nature of the moment, for which the two frequent partisan antagonists shared principal credit.

Nothing remotely as consequential — or even out of the ordinary by once-customary standards for measuring congressional behavior — has happened this year. That’s worth observing at a time when so many politicians, columnists and political scientists are talking glowingly about the Capitol’s rhythms starting to return to normal.

Such declarations about signs of healthy legislative life this spring are mostly overwrought, somewhat premature and potentially counterproductive. Full story

April 23, 2015

A Few Delegations Newly Punching Above Their Weight

McConnell's stature has pushed Kentucky higher in the Roll Call Clout Index than it should be given its population. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

McConnell’s stature has pushed Kentucky higher in the Roll Call Clout Index than it should be given its population. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

The newest Roll Call Clout Index reveals that, even more than before, the largest potential for influence belongs to the states with the most people and therefore the biggest delegations. So it’s worth paying special attention to the smaller places with lawmaker contingents positioned to punch highest above their weight.

Maryland, at 19th in population with 5.8 million residents, is the only midsize or small state to crack the top 10, for reasons detailed in the initial piece about our calculations for the 114th Congress. One way of viewing the statistic is that the sway of the state’s lawmakers is nine notches better than where all the people they represent stand in population rank. And nearing Maryland’s standing are three significantly smaller delegations even more dramatically positioned to bring back victories disproportionate to their clout ranking. Full story

April 22, 2015

Delegation Clout Shifts in Aftermath of Earmark Era

Jeb Hensarling's Texas and Boehner's Ohio are enjoying strong rankings on the Roll Call Clout Index. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

Jeb Hensarling’s Texas and Boehner’s Ohio have high rankings on the Roll Call Clout Index. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

Four years after lawmakers gave up earmarking, the last of the billions once dedicated to pet projects has effectively been spent, and one result is a changed roster of states laying claim to the most clout in Congress.

Talking smack about which delegations pack the biggest punch, and which ones are relative weaklings, has been a Hill pastime for ages. For the past 25 years, Roll Call has contributed to the conversation by making quantifiable measurements of every state’s potential sway near the star of each new Congress.

Full story

April 13, 2015

Four Reasons Republicans Seem Reticent in Menendez Case

(Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

(Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

It’s the first federal bribery indictment of a sitting senator in almost a quarter century, and the defendant is among the most combative and combustible Democrats in the Capitol. So why have Republicans spent the better part of the past two weeks with their hands over their mouths?

There are four plausible reasons for their relative silence about the travails of Robert Menendez. They boil down to concerns about political expedience, foreign policy, self preservation and campaign finance. Full story

April 1, 2015

Can Ex-Members Sustain Success as Mayors?

Emanuel is looking to win a second term in Chicago. (CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Emanuel is looking to win a second term in Chicago. (CQ Roll Call File Photo)

It’s not only the season’s most consequential political event, but also a rare local election with a big rooting interest on the Hill. Voters in the nation’s third-biggest city are deciding next week if they still want to be led by a onetime member of congressional leadership.

If Rahm Emanuel wins a second term as mayor of Chicago, he’ll be cheered by fellow Democrats who remember his central role in engineering the party’s last takeover of the House, almost a decade ago. The victory would also be lamented with equal passion by veteran Republicans, who remember Emanuel as one of the most polarizing partisans in a Congress overstuffed with them.

Full story

March 24, 2015

A History of Curiosities, Clout for Wisconsin Delegation

Duffy is a member of the always intriguing Wisconsin congressional delegation. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Duffy is a member of the historically diverse and interesting Wisconsin congressional delegation. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

The death last week of Robert W. Kastenmeier, who evolved in the House from a prominent peace crusader into a premier intellectual property protector, is the freshest reminder of an odd truth about the modern Congress.

Wisconsin has produced way more than its fair share of iconoclastic but highly impactful members. Full story

March 3, 2015

Mikulski Legacy Is Beyond Longevity

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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 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 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

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

January 27, 2015

How the Presidential Race Threatens the 2016 August Recess

Could scheduling of the 2016 conventions mean a shorter August recess? (Chris Maddaloni/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Could scheduling of the 2016 conventions mean a shorter August recess? (Chris Maddaloni/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

The first voting is almost a full year away, and already the presidential campaign is upsetting the regular rhythms of Congress.

Members with national ambitions regularly complicate their colleagues’ lives by deciding their current jobs must take a back seat to their nascent campaigns. But that process is starting especially early this time: Florida’s Marco Rubio is denying Senate Republicans some potentially pivotal votes on the energy bill so he can spend this week fundraising in California, and Kentucky’s Rand Paul skipped this month’s retreat — where the GOP was hoping to come up with a unified Senate and House agenda for the year.

For the entire congressional community, however, there’s a more significant — and unprecedented — disruption in the works.

Full story

January 21, 2015

The Real Big Speech? The Pope Might Visit Congress

In this undated photo from the archives, Sen. Robert Byrd and Pope John Paul meet at the U.S. Capitol. (CQ Roll Call File Photo)

In this undated photo found in the Roll Call archives, Sen. Robert C. Byrd and Pope John Paul meet at the Capitol. (CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Hours before he took the podium, whatever President Barack Obama said Tuesday night was getting eclipsed on the Hill by all the excited chatter about the next person likely to speak before a joint meeting of Congress.

Expectations are growing that Pope Francis will be ascending the House rostrum this fall, becoming the first pontiff ever to visit the Capitol and the most important voice of worldwide moral authority to address lawmakers in person since Nelson Mandela two decades ago. 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

January 12, 2015

Democratic Committee Assignments Less Than a Zero-Sum Game

Pelosi is in a tough spot when it comes to making committee assignments for the 114th Congress. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

Pelosi is making committee assignments for the 114th Congress. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

The House Democrats undeniably remain the fourth and smallest wheel in the congressional machine. And they’re still struggling to apply enough internal political grease to get their pieces of the legislative engine out of neutral.

The party now has its smallest share of House seats in almost nine decades — just 188, or 43 percent. In reality, its disadvantage is even more pronounced. That’s because Republicans have stuck with the custom that the party in control claims more than its fair share of the seats on committees, where the bulk of the chamber’s policy battles are effectively won or lost. Full story

January 6, 2015

Quirky Ceremonies, Curious Characters Mark Hill’s ‘First Day of School’

He's ready for his close-up. Biden's time to shine is in the Old Senate Chamber. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

He’s ready for his close-up. Biden’s time to shine is in the Old Senate Chamber. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

If freshman week back in November was the Hill’s equivalent of college orientation, then the formal convening of each Congress is the Capitol’s analogue to the first day of school.

And so it may be useful, for the congressional community as well as the throngs of well-wishers in town just for the festivities, to be reminded of some of the curious ways in which the customs of this day are different from all the others. Full story

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