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November 30, 2015

Posts in "Culture of Congress"

November 19, 2015

Bill Shuster Wants ‘Like Father, Like Son’ Moment

bill shuster

(Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

When negotiators on the highway and mass transit bill formally convened Wednesday, it took only a few minutes for them to cut their first deal: Rep. Bill Shuster was named chairman of the conference committee.

The decision further cements the Pennsylvania Republican’s standing as one of the most prominent legislators of the year — and it raises the stakes for his performance in the next few weeks.

A new set of policies and payments for public works, six years overdue, is now tantalizingly close to becoming one of the biggest achievements in the first year of the 114th Congress. Shuster made clear at the conferees’ opening session he will press hard for an agreement soon after next week’s holiday recess.

“So, staff on both sides of the aisle, happy Thanksgiving,” he said.

It’s a moment he’s been preparing for throughout his three years at the helm of the House Transportation and Infrastructure panel. But he began his schooling for this time as a boy, aided by the example and perhaps the genetics of his father. Full story

November 15, 2015

House Conservative Favorite Eyes Unusual Career Switch

trey gowdy

(Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

The path from the legislative to the executive branch is as well-worn as usual, with five senators and a former senator now hoping to succeed another onetime senator as president and 15 former members joining the Cabinets of the Obama and George Bush administrations.

The route between the legislative and judicial branches, by contrast, is as weeded-over as it’s ever been. No one has gone from Congress to the federal bench in 30 years, and the last Supreme Court justice with any congressional experience retired in 1971.

The natures of those political trajectories might not remain as diametrically different for all that much longer. Full story

November 5, 2015

What the 2016 Calendar Says About Congress

Speaker Paul D. Ryan and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell agree on at least one thing: a long August recess. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

Speaker Paul D. Ryan and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell agree on at least one thing: a long August recess. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

Decades of waiting on the arrival of the annual congressional calendar and then poring over the details affords Hill long-timers a nuanced appreciation of the myriad political calculations and logistical limitations that go in to setting the Capitol’s timetable for an entire year.

Inside the stretches of legislating followed by the bursts of recess, the schedules for 2016 announced this week by the Republican top brass in the House and Senate offer some quirky rhythms and unexpected sequences that give insight into the hectic election year ahead. Here are five messages delivered by the new diary. Full story

November 4, 2015

The Ryan Rule: Whose Portrait Is Next?

From left, Pelosi, Rep. Eric Cantor, Boehner, and Hastert at Hastert's portrait unveiling in 2009. (CQ Roll Call File Photo)

From left, Pelosi, Rep. Eric Cantor, Boehner, and Hastert at Hastert’s portrait unveiling in 2009. (CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Just days into the job, Speaker Paul D. Ryan has now made two decisions that deliver a powerful signal about how he’ll be the institutional steward of the House.

First, by declaring he’ll keep sleeping in his office, and now by having J. Dennis Hastert’s ceremonial portrait carted off to oblivion, Ryan is sending a clear message about his priorities: Trying for a short-term boost in the abysmal reputation of Congress — by using symbolic gestures that are easy for the electorate to understand — is more important than shielding the long-term reputation and historical stature of the legislative branch. Full story

November 3, 2015

The Mixed Symbolism of Paul Ryan Sleeping in His Office

UNITED STATES - OCTOBER 28: Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wisc., leaves a  House Republican Conference meeting in Longworth Building where he was nominated as their Speaker of the House candidate, October 28, 2015. (Photo By Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

Ryan has no intention of paying rent off campus. (Photo By Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

Many colorful “firsts” are accompanying Paul D. Ryan into the speakership. Most are distinctions from his past he can do nothing to alter: The only Wisconsinite to ever preside over the House, the first who’s been Ways and Means chairman, waited tables on Capitol Hill or toiled as a House staffer.

There’s one symbolically important aspect of his present life, however, that’s also unprecedented among House speakers — and that he may be pressed to change:

He sleeps in his office. Full story

October 22, 2015

Ryan Sacrifices Job Security With Eye Toward Long Game

One and done for Ryan? (Al Drago/CQ Roll Call)

One and done for Ryan? (Al Drago/CQ Roll Call)

What’s the best job security Paul D. Ryan can hope for, even if the Republican malcontents hold their fire long enough and he becomes speaker of the House?

That would be one year. Fourteen months, at the outside. Full story

October 20, 2015

Gridlock Greets Mondale on Return to D.C.

Mondale visited the Capitol in January. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Mondale visited the Capitol in January. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Tuesday’s symposium on the legacy of Walter Mondale, the former vice president and power-player senator, offers a fresh rationale for considering a smartly argued report that’s gone largely overlooked in all this fall’s congressional news.

The white paper, released last month by the nonprofit and nonpartisan Partnership for Public Service, concludes that congressional polarization has spread gridlock so widely and deeply beyond the Capitol that it’s gummed up the works significantly for the executive branch as well. Full story

October 10, 2015

Next Speaker Unlikely to Continue Long String of Leadership Insiders

Ryan, right, has policy chops but scant leadership experience. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

Ryan, right, has policy chops but scant leadership experience. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

Updated Oct. 13, 12 p.m. | There may be plenty of good reasons why Republicans are now seeking a “fresh face” as House speaker. But picking from outside the existing chain of command would also create some big challenges.

It also would be highly unusual. It’s been nearly a century since someone was chosen to preside over the House without ever occupying a lower rung in the leadership. The past 16 speakers, in other words, have won with serious insider credentials — even when political common sense has pointed to the selection of a certified outsider. Full story

October 9, 2015

House Republicans Cement Quarter-Century Lock on Melodrama at the Top

Boehner xxx (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

Boehner ascended to the speakership in 2011. It hasn’t been as smooth since. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

These two weeks have been an intense reminder about how unstable the speakership of the House has become. Thursday put a shocking spotlight on another reality: Republicans have had nothing but unexpected heartache in choosing their own leaders in the past quarter-century.

The congressional world has continued to turn, and the party has managed to regain power after losing it, but not without enduring some of the most melodramatic episodes in memory during times of leadership transition in the House GOP.

This was highlighted with exceptional clarity by Kevin McCarthy’s out-of-the-blue decision to abandon his quest to become speaker, even as he stood minutes away from winning the nomination of his colleagues with the support of perhaps 80 percent of his caucus. His announcement made him, in all but the most official terms, the second out of the past four anointed Republican candidates for the top job in the House who has taken himself out of the running at effectively the final hour. Full story

October 7, 2015

Young Man in a Hurry, Chaffetz Now Positioned for a Longer Game

Chaffetz has his eye on a promotion. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

Chaffetz has his eye on a promotion. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

Jason Chaffetz will bring a chameleon political background and unremitting ambition into Thursday’s caucus of Republicans with his eyes on the prize — just not this time.

The fourth-term congressman from central Utah is not only looking three weeks ahead. He’s also thinking about 13 months from now, and also two years after that. Full story

October 5, 2015

Scorched Senate Tactics Limiting Cruz’s Options, Top Prize Excepted

Cruz has alienated many Senate colleagues (Al Drago/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Cruz has alienated many Senate colleagues. (Al Drago/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

The questions about Ted Cruz in the Senate no longer start with whether he’s got even a couple of friends left among fellow Republicans. The answer, after a public shaming on the floor last week, sure looks like a “no.”

As to whether he’s bothered by his deepening isolation in the Capitol, that’s just as easily answered in the negative. To the contrary, he’s acting as though it’s one of the best things going for him in his presidential campaign. Full story

September 30, 2015

Ambition, Achievement, Tenure: House’s Team of GOP Rivals Long on Just One

Scalise, right, and McCarthy, have scant few legislative achievements. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

Scalise, right, and McCarthy, have few legislative achievements. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

This much has become clear about the still-evolving scramble to reconfigure the House Republican leadership: Only white males will end up occupying the top three positions of power. They’re all going to hail from the Sun Belt. At least two, but perhaps all three, will have been in Congress for fewer than a dozen years.

And not one of them will have an established reputation for either legislative accomplishment or expertise in any particular area of public policy. Full story

September 29, 2015

Hamlet of the House Routine Prompts Talk About Act 3

(Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

(Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

On paper, at least, he remains an obvious option. Just ask him. And yet Jeb Hensarling is walking away, for the second time in as many years, from an opportunity to move into the topmost echelon of House Republicans.

Over the weekend, the Dallas congressman was totally eager to be on the Great Mentioner’s lips as a central player in the latest GOP leadership upheaval, brought on by the surprise departure of Speaker John A. Boehner, R-Ohio. It was the same way 15 months ago, when Eric Cantor’s even more surprising defeat in Virginia’s GOP primary meant the end of his time as majority leader.

Yet when it came time to either put up for one of those top jobs or to stand down, Hensarling demurred on Monday after “prayerful consideration,” the precise rationale he also deployed last time. Full story

September 27, 2015

Will Speakers Ever Again Be Able to Stay on Their Own Terms?

UNITED STATES - SEPTEMBER 25: Speaker of the House John Boehner, R-Ohio, holds a news conference on Friday, Sept. 25, 2015, to discuss his decision to resign his position as Speaker and leave Congress at the end of October. (Photo By Bill Clark/Roll Call/Pool)

(Bill Clark/Roll Call/Pool)

Speaker John A. Boehner’s resignation continues, and possibly cements, a remarkable pattern in modern American politics.

The most powerful position in Congress has also become one of the most unstable jobs in American government. After almost a century of orderly departures and orchestrated transitions, five of the six most recent speakers of the House have now been pushed from the Capitol by circumstances they could not control.

The trend of past three decades will surely make California’s Kevin McCarthy, or whoever ascends to the presiding officer’s chair, extremely wary about his career’s trajectory over the long term — even after this fall’s latest internal Republican revolution gets put to rest. Full story

September 21, 2015

Members Will Be Blocked 2 Ways From Touching Pope Francis (Video)

Reid and other congressional leaders will do all they can to keep Pope Francis on schedule . (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Reid and other congressional leaders will do all they can to keep Pope Francis on schedule. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Too many members cannot be trusted to behave themselves when Pope Francis comes to the Capitol, the congressional leadership has decided. And so, to enforce decorous discipline, some extraordinary measures are being readied.

Each party is assembling teams of lawmakers to essentially act as blocking tackles, willing to restrain any of their colleagues intent on trying to reach out for a papal touch as he walks onto the floor of the House.

And after the historic speech, the doors to the cloakrooms and the hallways will be blocked — and in some cases, locked — to prevent lawmakers from leaving the chamber for perhaps half an hour, until Francis has appeared on a West Front balcony to greet the ticketed throng and then departed the Hill by motorcade. Full story

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