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April 24, 2014

Posts in "Democrats"

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 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 4, 2014

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

pryor020414 445x285 Vote Studies Show Double Sided Numbers for Senates Red State Four

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

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

November 11, 2013

Convention City Wannabes Are Rehearsing Their Pitches for 2016

Darkness after work. Freeze warnings at night. Congress looking likely to work until close to Christmas, then return just a week into January. Staff and member travel clipped by the sequester. And an off-year election jump-starting the next presidential race earlier than ever.

No wonder that not-so-idle Capitol Hill speculation has already started about which two buffed-up and generous cities might get to welcome the Washington diaspora in the summer of 2016. That’s when thousands of lawmakers, aides, lobbyists, money chasers, journalists and functionaries are counting on at least one expense-account-funded week of networking and partying. Full story

November 7, 2013

Democrats Unveil Post-ENDA Game Plan

Senate Democrats, confident of passing legislation banning job discrimination against gay people, are readying their next assertive moves on three other issues important to their base:

  • Abortion rights
  • Minimum wage
  • Federal judiciary

The goal is to divert as much attention as possible away from the problem-plagued Obamacare rollout at this formative stage of the 2104 campaign. Full story

October 31, 2013

16 Senate Women Say ‘Run, Hillary, Run’ in 2016

With President Barack Obama’s approval ratings near a new low this week, the Democratic water-cooler talk is focusing especially early on hopes for 2016 — with the bulk of today’s attention on news that all 16 of the Senate’s Democratic women have written to Hillary Rodham Clinton, urging her to run.

The unanimity of the group means as many as three potential aspirants for the nomination would defer to the former secretary of State, adding to the sense of inevitability about her candidacy and to the expectation that her bid would essentially clear the Democratic field.

Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts has been widely touted on the left as a worthy liberal alternative to Clinton, and she hasn’t explicitly ruled out such a candidacy. But the freshman senator’s signing of the letter appears to amount to such a demurral. Kirsten Gillibrand of New York and Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota have both publicly described themselves as Clinton supporters and have signaled they would shelve their White House aspirations if she ran next time. Their signatures lock those promises in place.

Another newsworthy signature comes from the dean of the female senators, Barbara A. Mikulski of Maryland, because it means she’s not waiting for her state’s governor, Martin O’Malley, to formalize his presidential intentions before declaring her preference for someone else.

The letter was orchestrated by Barbara Boxer of California in early spring, only months after Obama’s second term began and Clinton left her Cabinet seat. It came just as the Ready for Hillary super PAC was being created by aides to her 2008 campaign in an effort to centralize the recruiting efforts. Clinton herself has said she won’t announce her intentions before next year.

The missive was intended to be a private message to the onetime New York senator from her former colleagues, and its text has not been disclosed. Its existence was revealed Monday by one of the signers, Kay Hagan of North Carolina. “All of the Senate Democratic women have written her a letter encouraging her to run,” she told a gathering of donors to EMILY’s List, part of a series of meetings the group is staging across the country to promote interest in a female Democratic candidate.

Two other prominent Democrats committed this week to supporting a Clinton candidacy: Rahm Emanuel, who left a power-player career in the House to become Obama’s first chief of staff and is now mayor of Chicago; and Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom of California.

The boomlet of interest in 2016 comes as a series of recent surveys shows Obama’s average job approval rating once again slipping below 44 percent. It’s generally been above that benchmark since the summer, but it’s been dragged down by a welter of problems — spying by the National Security Agency, the balky approach toward Syria’s chemical weapons, the government shutdown and now the multifaceted troubles for the rollout of his health care law.

October 23, 2013

Sebelius’ Tenure as Obamacare Overseer Hangs With Vulnerable Democrats

Will the star witness who isn’t there become the sacrificial secretary?

Thursday’s marquee hearing at an otherwise quiet Capitol takes place at House Energy and Commerce. That’s where Republicans will launch their public investigation into what’s really wrong with HealthCare.gov and who’s really responsible for the centerpiece of the new health insurance marketplace that’s become such a wobbly mess.

Officials from four of the 55 contractors will testify, but no one from the Obama administration will appear. Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius decided to spend the day out on the hustings, touting the benefits of the health care law across the Southwest. She has agreed to come before the committee next week instead.

It will be little surprise if the corporate executives, taking advantage of her absence as a rebuttal witness, push as much blame as possible for the online morass toward their government customers. What will be more newsworthy is if the wall of Democratic support for Sebelius starts to crumble. Full story

July 18, 2013

Obama Touts Health Law as Some Nervous Democrats Defect

President Barack Obama is making another attempt today to sell his health care law to the public. He learned Wednesday that he’s got more work to do than he expected.

When the House passed two Republican measures to delay core provisions of the law, unexpectedly large numbers of Democrats took the opportunity to endorse the proposals: 17 percent of them voted to delay the coming employer mandate by one year and 11 percent voted to put off for the same time the requirement that individuals obtain health insurance.

Most notable on the list were two congressmen who voted to enact Obamacare three years ago and are favored to hold open Senate seats for their party next fall: Gary Peters, who at the moment looks like a safe bet to succeed Carl Levin in Michigan, was a “yes” on both bills. Bruce Braley of Iowa, who has the clear edge in the race to succeed Tom Harkin, supported the employer mandate postponement. Full story

June 25, 2013

Both Parties Play Rope-a-Dope on Obama’s Climate Agenda

There’s nothing congressional Republicans can do to stop President Barack Obama’s assertive new moves against carbon pollution. There’s nothing the Democrats can do to help him. And both sides have concluded that trying could make their own political fortunes worse.

Which is why four years ago to the day is going to stand, until at least the end of the decade, as the legislative climax in the climate change debate. Full story

June 18, 2013

The Risks and Rewards of Being First to Endorse an Assumed Candidate

Congressional endorsements of presidential candidates aren’t much of what they used to be — door-openers to the sort of local organizational muscle and fat checkbooks that would scare away rivals early on or change the late dynamic of a close primary.

The televised, telemarketed and tweeted world of modern national campaigns doesn’t have much room for a regional or even statewide power broker to make a mark. And, for most senators or House members, the loss of face from embracing the loser is a much bigger worry than the all-too-often ephemeral rewards from standing in the reflected glow of a winner.

Those dynamics help explain why, by the time former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney wrapped up the topsy-turvy Republican nomination contest last April, he’d been formally endorsed by only 25 senators (slightly more than half) and just 79 House members (slightly fewer than one-third).

They also highlight just how unusually Sen. Claire McCaskill of Missouri was behaving Tuesday, when she announced she was entering the high-profile early endorsement game for the second time in as many Democratic presidential contests.

Six Januaries ago, McCaskill was the first woman in the Senate to back her colleague Barack Obama of Illinois over her other colleague Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York. This time, she’s become the first member of Congress whatsoever to endorse Clinton — who insists she won’t reveal whether she’ll be a candidate before the end of the year. Full story

June 13, 2013

Harry Reid Squashes First Poison Pill on Immigration

The Democrats made a forceful move this morning to defeat the first Republican effort to cripple the immigration overhaul. Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., opened the third day of proceedings by moving to table, and thereby kill, the opening GOP bid for bolstering the bill’s border security provisions.

The amendment was designed to impose such a high threshold for border security that the “gang of eight” coalition behind the underlying bill would fracture. But Reid’s maneuver to kill it without so much as a fare thee well also threatens to upend the rickety bipartisan agreement to stay on course for a textbook friendly debate. Full story

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