Roll Call: Latest News on Capitol Hill, Congress, Politics and Elections
December 21, 2014

Posts in "Democrats"

November 17, 2014

This Democrat Could Be the McConnell Whisperer

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Biden: The McConnell whisperer? (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

The next two years may be when Joe gets his last, best chance to help run the show.

Joseph R. Biden Jr. is preparing to celebrate his 72nd birthday next week and has been sending really mixed signals about where he’d like to take his career in 2016. But regardless of whether he decides to launch his third uphill campaign for president, the 47th vice president of the United States is positioned by the force of his experience, personality and circumstance to be among the indispensable players of the 114th Congress.

Several scenarios in the midterm elections could have generated a 50-50 partisan split in the Senate, meaning Biden would have quite literally been trapped at the Capitol next year so he could be counted on to cast tie-breaking votes for his fellow Democrats on a potentially daily basis. (It’s a vice-presidential power he’s never exercised after almost six years on the job; his predecessor Dick Cheney provided the decisive vote for the Republicans eight times in the previous decade.)

Now that Republicans are certain of holding at least 53 (and possibly 54) seats come January, Biden’s telegenic services as presiding officer and deadlock-breaker might never be required. Instead, he may end up with a big reprise of his more consequential vice-presidential role — as the legislative deal-maker-in-chief. Full story

October 7, 2014

The Hillary Clinton 2014 Campaign Tour: Helping Democratic Women, One Swing State at a Time

455467610 445x269 The Hillary Clinton 2014 Campaign Tour: Helping Democratic Women, One Swing State at a Time

The Clintons stump with retiring Democratic Sen. Tom Harkin at the 37th Harkin Steak Fry in Iowa. (Steve Pope/Getty Images News File Photo)

They are matches made in Democratic political consultant heaven: More than a dozen statewide candidates whose fortunes could turn on turnout by women, each paired with the woman getting ready to run again toward what she’s dubbed “that highest, hardest glass ceiling in American politics.”

In the final four weeks before an election, there’s really only one surefire way to generate “positive-earned media,” the euphemism for getting the campaign’s message on the local news for free and without much filter. That’s to import someone like-minded from the political A-list to talk up the candidate at a rally or photogenic factory tour. And about the best way into the pockets of the local donors who haven’t “maxed out” yet is to persuade that same big surrogate to stick around for a fundraiser after the TV crews have left the scene.

In the pantheon of Democratic celebrities, of course, Bill and Hillary Rodham Clinton stand apart, and the former president generated ample attention Monday when he started two days of barnstorming in his native Arkansas with a rally for Sen. Mark Pryor, who’s now a slight underdog for a third term, and gubernatorial candidate Mike Ross, the former congressman.

But while Bill Clinton is out to remind the folks back home of their past fondness for white-guy Democratic moderates, it’s Hillary Clinton who is all-but-officially out to capture the party’s future — which is what’s making her the biggest “get” of all this fall.

All of a sudden, she is hardly being stingy with her time. After steering almost entirely clear of the public campaign trail in the six years since her first run for president, the former secretary of State has now mapped an October that includes stumping or fundraising in a dozen states. Half have been intensely contested in recent national elections and several are also pivotal players in the Democratic nominating process. She’s going to put herself out there to try to influence the outcome of at least seven Senate elections, five races for governor’s mansions and even a handful of House contests. Full story

September 16, 2014

First Clinton, Now Biden Offer Iowa Their Versions of 2016 Populism

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(Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

She went out to grill some beef, and now he’s going out to help some nuns.

The two former senators who overshadow all other Democrats with ripe presidential ambition, Hillary Rodham Clinton and Joseph R. Biden Jr., are ending up in Iowa less than 72 hours apart this week. Every detail of their back-to-back forays will be scrupulously dissected for clues about how and when the 2016 contest will take shape.

On Wednesday morning, the vice president will be at the state capitol in Des Moines during the kickoff of a 5,200-mile road trip by Nuns on the Bus, a group of Catholic sisters who plan to visit three-dozen cities to promote voter registration, along with their views of social justice.

It’s an official, not political, trip for Biden because he’s arranged to deliver a speech about the Obama administration’s economic policies. But the actual contexts — not only the midterm elections but also his potential presidential quest — are absolutely clear. So everyone with a keen political ear will be listening for both similarities and subtle differences between his rhetoric and the partisan call-to-arms Clinton delivered Sunday, when the previous secretary of State was in Indianola for the 37th annual  steak fry, the final one Sen. Tom Harkin will host before his retirement. Full story

July 22, 2014

Elizabeth Warren’s Summer of Surrogacy Helps Keep 2016 Talk Alive

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Warren is traveling far and wide, sparking speculation about her national ambitions. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

If Rand Paul is taking this summer’s most prominent turn in the Republican spotlight, then the same must be said for his Senate colleague Elizabeth Warren among the new generation of national Democratic players.

The two first-term senators are generating their surges in attention in different ways, probably because they have different timetables in mind for their presidential aspirations.

While Paul is overtly laying the groundwork for a virtually certain 2016 campaign with a series of bold fundraising, staffing and legislative moves totally disconnected from his home base in Kentucky, Warren has been taking another tack with a seemingly alternate objective. She, too, has been spending most of her not-in-session time politicking far from her home base of Massachusetts, but almost all her campaigning and cash collecting has been on behalf of others. Full story

July 16, 2014

Congressman of Lost Era Loved Earmarks, Magic Tricks

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(CQ Roll Call File Photo)

They don’t make members of Congress like Ken Gray any more. In today’s political climate, it would be next to impossible to make him up.

More than a quarter century after he left the House, Gray died on July 12 at age 89. And he was still remembered with bemused fondness by those old-timers at the Capitol who lament that the place isn’t populated with as many “characters” as it used to be.

Gray represented the rural southern reaches of Illinois from 1955 through 1974, when he first departed because of a heart condition and signs of an impending scandal. The Democrat returned a decade later, and served another two terms before retiring for good. That run dovetailed with my first years in Washington, and the boldness of his legislative, interpersonal and sartorial styles made him stand out as a tonic in a House where the members were becoming increasingly cautious in their policy proposals, circumspect in their dealings with the other party and downright boring in their presentation.

Gray was the opposite on all counts. His career was a vivid reminder of the time when the bipartisan pursuit of parochial project spending could be practiced with unbridled enthusiasm as well as success. Full story

May 15, 2014

DCCC’s Bad Week a Lesson in Political Basics

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Conyers’ ballot blunder in Michigan is just one thing that happened to the DCCC this week. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

It’s been an undeniably rotten week for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. And, just as certainly, the people running the House minority’s political operation have only themselves to blame.

One of the party’s mostly highly touted challengers to capture a seat in Florida abandoned his candidacy on Tuesday, after several holes too many appeared in his biography. Hours later, the party’s most senior incumbent running for re-election became a man without a place in his Michigan primary, after several hundred questionable signatures too many appeared on his ballot petitions.

The unsightly fortunes of both Ed Jany and Rep. John Conyers Jr., it seems clear, could have been avoided had the DCCC orchestrated — or at least insisted on — some minimal political and organizational due diligence.

In Tampa Bay, the problem is irreparable; the Democrats have now given away a House seat that was central to their midterm election goals. In Detroit, the party faces potentially lengthy legal and public relations challenges but in the end won’t have to sweat to hold one of the most lopsidedly Democratic districts in the country. Full story

May 13, 2014

First Lady Makes First Midterm Foray as First Surrogate

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The First Lady had a prominent role at the Democratic National Convention in 2012. (Douglas Graham/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Michelle Obama drew plenty of attention last weekend on both the international and popular culture fronts, the publicity overshadowing what may end up being the biggest bit of Washington news she’ll make this spring, as the first lady has taken her first turn of the 2014 campaign as presidential first surrogate.

There was considerable Beltway clucking with the release of “Fed Up,” a documentary portraying the processed food and sugar industries as responsible for the childhood obesity epidemic — and Obama’s “Let’s Move” campaign as ineffectual and co-opted by those corporate interests. (A particularly cutting opening sketch on “Saturday Night Live” leveled a similar criticism.)

Then there were global headlines from the first lady’s effort to focus attention on the kidnapping of scores of school girls in Nigeria by Islamic militants. After tweeting out a photograph of herself holding a sign that read “Bring Back Our Girls,” she decried the abductions while filling in for her husband in delivering the weekly presidential radio address.

All that almost completely obscured how the first lady spent part of her weekend in New Orleans with Sen. Mary L. Landrieu. Full story

May 7, 2014

Why Pryor Decided Time Was Ripe to Appear With Obama

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(Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

He asked for it. And anyone politically savvy enough to win two Senate elections must have decent reasons for doing something that seems so counterintuitive.

Mark Pryor is the only Democrat in the Arkansas congressional delegation and currently a clear-cut underdog to secure another term. That’s mainly because only about a third of the state’s voters approve of the job performance of President Barack Obama, even poorer numbers than his 2012 faring — the president lost Arkansas by 24 percentage points. In 2008, he lost to Sen. John McCain by a mere 20 points in the Natural State.

And yet it was at Pryor’s urging that Obama on Wednesday made his first trip to the state as president — a 150-minute foray that in reality was largely about midterm campaign politics, even though it was officially all about getting the first-responder-in-chief to put his own eyes on the South’s severe natural disasters.

“The federal government’s going to be right here until we get these communities rebuilt,” the president said after touring the tornado-ravaged suburb of Vilonia, 30 miles north of Little Rock. “I know you can count on your senator” and other local officials to deliver what will be required, Obama said, facing the cameras in shirt sleeves with a checkered-shirt-clad Pryor standing near his right shoulder.

Because of some unusual circumstances, the visit did not countermand the conventional wisdom that standing with the president is the most dangerous thing a vulnerable congressional Democrat could do between now and November.

Instead, the event provided Pryor with an extraordinary opportunity to burnish his own political brand. 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

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(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

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(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 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 2, 2014

Sober Look at the Depth Chart Intensifies for House Democrats

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(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?

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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

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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

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