Roll Call: Latest News on Capitol Hill, Congress, Politics and Elections
February 12, 2016

Posts in "Foreign Policy"

February 11, 2016

Inside the Cruz and Rubio Ambassadorial Proxy War


UNITED STATES - SEPTEMBER 27: From left, Sens. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, Mike Lee, R-Utah, and Marco Rubio, R-Fla., speak to the media after the Senate voted to pass the continuing resolution. (Photo By Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

Cruz and Rubio on Capitol Hill. (Photo By Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio aren’t only taking their campaigns onward to South Carolina. While the next Republican primary commands the public’s attention, both are also running for president by mounting quiet symbolic protests at American embassies around the world.

A single senator has nearly unilateral ability to block any confirmation, whether he’s in the Capitol or on the hustings hundreds of miles away. The junior senators from Texas and Florida are using their power to place indefinite “holds” on diplomatic nominees, hoping to highlight their own foreign policies and their condemnations of President Barack Obama’s conduct of international affairs. Full story

December 16, 2015

Silence Greets Pleas for War Authority


UNITED STATES - DECEMBER 9: Rep. Walter Jones, R-N.C., and Rep. Thomas Massie, R-Ky., (not pictured) hold a news conference on Wednesday, Dec. 9, 2015, outside of the Capitol to de-authorize use of Capitol office space and staff provided to the recent ex-Speaker of the House. (Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

Jones says Congress is neglecting its constitutional duty on declaring war. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

“Politics makes strange bedfellows” is one of the oldest adages around. These days, the prospect of another war is making for some particularly strange bedfellows in the House.

An extraordinarily bipartisan group of 35 members, hoping to benefit from the heightened attention on Congress in the session’s closing days, is pressing anew for a debate on authorizing the use of military force against the Islamic State. Full story

December 7, 2015

Treaty Semantics, Senate Politics and the Paris Climate Talks


Loy thinks Paris has the potential to be stronger than the treaty he helped negotiate, the Kyoto Protocol on Climate Change. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

Loy says there is little consensus on what would constitute legally binding language in a climate agreement. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

In the simple world of civics class, the president gets to make treaties and they’re binding on the United States when two out of three senators say so.

In today’s complex political world, that’s almost never how it plays out. Beyond baked-in partisanship and steep distrust of whoever occupies the White House lies this obstacle to Senate ratification of any international agreement: The protection of American sovereignty is among the most basic conservative objectives. Full story

November 17, 2015

Two Veteran Chairmen in Forefront After Paris Attacks


paris attacks

McCaul arrives in the Longworth Building last month. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

After the Sept. 11 attacks, the most famous moment when terrorism instantly replaced the economy as the congressional agenda item, editors here struggled to assemble a list of 28 lawmakers prepared to take ownership of the Hill’s new mission.

Nineteen of them have left in the intervening 14 years, making way for a new generation of members driving debates about foreign intelligence, international relations, military defense and domestic protection policies. And because of the Republican takeover of the Senate in 2014 and House GOP term limits, six of the eight committees that will take the lead in shaping the congressional response to the Islamic State got new chairmen this year.

The situation stands to focus extra attention in the weeks ahead on the pair in the House who have held their gavels two years longer than the rest: Michael McCaul of Texas at Homeland Security and Ed Royce of California at Foreign Relations. Full story

October 18, 2015

Clinton Better Bring A-Game to Benghazi Hearing


UNITED STATES - JANUARY 23: Secretary of State Hillary Clinton testifies during the Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing on the September 11th attacks against the U.S. mission in Benghazi on  Wednesday morning, January 23, 2013. (Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

Clinton testified during the Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing on the Benghazi attacks on Jan. 23, 2013. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

The year’s most important congressional hearing is at hand — not only because momentum in a presidential election is in play, but also because the legislative branch’s ability to conduct serious oversight is on the line.

On both fronts, the power to shape the public’s perception Thursday rests with Hillary Rodham Clinton. And, whatever else about her behavior and ideology remains open to passionate disagreement, this much looks clear: With a single glaring exception, she has made an exceptionally effective witness during her 31 previous appearances before Congress, dating back more than two decades. Full story

August 5, 2015

GOP Eyes Audacious Escape Plan From Policy Gridlock This Fall


A stormy fall is assured for Congress. (Bill Clark/ CQ Roll Call)

A stormy fall is assured for Congress. (Bill Clark/ CQ Roll Call)

Even by the standards of today’s Capitol, where doing important business at or after the last possible moment is the default setting, an exceptionally long and disparate roster of battles and deadlines lies ahead this fall.

Far from conceding they’ll be strategically paralyzed by the welter of polarizing conflict, however, senior Republicans increasingly boast how the situation after Labor Day creates an ideal venue for a big accomplishment by Christmas.

This may prove to be only the naive optimism inherent in the onset of an especially long August recess. But the party that won control of Congress a year ago — with a promise to end the era of shutdown showmanship and fiscal cliff-walking — insists it’s got an escape hatch in the corner it’s been painting itself into all year. Full story

June 17, 2015

Why Backing the Rule Is No. 1 Rule for Party Discipline


Boehner is demanding party loyalty to deliver a victory on procedural rules. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

Boehner is demanding party loyalty to deliver a Republican victory on procedural rules. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

“Voting on the rule” may sound like nothing more than procedural inside baseball. But an enormous amount of policy and political consequence hinges on the fate of House roll calls on resolutions setting the terms for a bill’s consideration.

That’s as true this summer as it’s been in a long while. It’s not a stretch to say President Barack Obama’s top remaining second-term priority, and prospects for Republicans to prove competence at controlling Congress, both rest on this bit of the parliamentary process. Full story

June 9, 2015

Passport Case Boosts Obama Foreign Policy Over Hill


The Jerusalem passport case has taken away some of Congress' power. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

The Supreme Court ruling on the Jerusalem passport case takes away some of Congress’ power. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Congress has decisively lost to the president in the year’s most consequential balance-of-powers dispute before the Supreme Court.

The president must have exclusive power to formally recognize the government of another nation, the court declared Monday in a 6-3 decision both sides predicted would shift influence over American foreign policy away from the Capitol and push more of it toward the White House. Full story

May 10, 2015

After Supercharged Start, Tom Cotton Stands Alone (Video)


Cotton heads to the Senate amid the Iran debate. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

Cotton heads to the Senate amid the Iran debate. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

Tom Cotton marks two milestones this week. As of Monday, more than half of his senatorial career will have elapsed (63 days!) since his pugilistic letter warning Iran against cutting a nuclear deal with the Obama administration. And Wednesday is the Arkansas Republican’s 38th birthday, another reminder he’s the youngest senator in two decades.

Those twin occasions provide an opportunity to note just how unusually hot and fast Cotton’s start has been. Even in a Senate where newcomers no longer feel obligated to bide their time or defer to their elders, as they did for so much of history, just four months of combativeness may have determined the personality of Cotton’s entire congressional life — no matter how long it lasts. Full story

March 10, 2015

GOP Aim: Make Menendez’s Troubles About Reid


Republicans are hoping to tie troubles Menendez is facing to Reid, right. Image from 2011. (CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Republicans are hoping to tie troubles Menendez is facing to Reid, right. Image from 2011. (CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Republicans may not realistically smell another Senate seat about to become available, but they’re moving quickly on the very real scent of political blood. And their nose for scandal has them salivating at more than the fate of Sen. Robert Menendez, who may be only weeks from facing federal corruption charges.

Some in the GOP also sniff something fishy in the way the Obama administration’s Justice Department leaked word of the pending prosecution last week, just as New Jersey’s senior senator was ratcheting up his standing as the most prominent Democratic critic of the president’s foreign policy. Other Republicans insinuate there is news that really stinks, suggesting Minority Leader Harry Reid may have not only abetted but also may have benefited from some of Menendez’s questionable behavior — and he isn’t signaling any interest in separating his colleague from the Senate power structure.

Full story

January 22, 2015

Congress, Obama Each Say ‘You First’ on War Authorization


Boehner and Obama each have demurred on introducing a war authorization measure. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

Boehner and Obama each have demurred on introducing a war authorization measure. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

On the topic of authorizing the use of military force against the Islamic State, the state of play between Congress and President Barack Obama is reminiscent of some famous cartoon humor from a century ago.

The premise of “Alphonse and Gaston,” a comic strip that ran in the old New York Journal for a decade starting in 1901, was that the title characters were essentially paralyzed by their devotion to an extreme and unnecessary form of deferential politeness. Neither would ever do anything or travel anywhere because each insisted that the other precede him. Full story

December 4, 2014

Obama’s Push for Political Ambassadors Reaching Lame-Duck Limit


Baucus is the ambassador to China. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Baucus is the ambassador to China. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Perhaps the last important contribution Max Baucus made to the culture of the Senate, where he spent 35 years, was to offer a blunt truth before becoming the American envoy in Beijing.

“I’m no real expert on China,” the Montana Democrat confessed during the January hearing on his nomination to be ambassador to the nation with the most people and the second-biggest economy in the world. But six days later, his colleagues voted, 96-0, to confirm him anyway.

The candor of that episode offered a glimpse into a debate that’s been underway for a century, and which brewed in the background all year before bubbling into public view this week. What should be the limit on a president’s ability to use ambassadorships as rewards for his political allies?

Full story

September 16, 2014

On Ebola, Obama’s Bold Move Is Greeted on Hill With Eager Assent


Contrary to what seemed certain as the week began, American military boots will soon be on the ground to combat a societal scourge on the other side of the world. And virtually no one in Congress sounds opposed to the idea.

That’s because President Barack Obama’s expanding global assertiveness, with congressional buy-in viewed as totally welcome but rarely required, inserted the country into another international crisis Tuesday. He said he would send 3,000 members of the armed forces to West Africa to provide medical and logistical support to local officials overwhelmed by the quickening spread of the deadly Ebola virus. He’ll also be taking $500 million out of the Pentagon fund for the longstanding war-fighting efforts and using it to open 17 treatment centers in the region.

“Ebola is now an epidemic of the likes that we have not seen before,” the president declared. “It’s spiraling out of control, it is getting worse. It’s spreading faster, and exponentially.”

The new deployment will be six times larger than the number of additional military advisers Obama announced last week that he was dispatching to help contain ISIS in Iraq. And the amount he’s spending to erect those field hospitals is the same as what it’s going to cost for the U.S. military to train and arm Syrian rebels so they can confront that militant extremist group’s rise in their country.

Notwithstanding those comparisons, there was only a small amount of discussion about the newest military surge Tuesday on Capitol Hill — especially when compared to the intensifying debate about Obama’s efforts against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria.

One of the reasons for that is obvious: Members of Congress generally feel both a moral and a political imperative to take some sort of formal position before their uniformed constituents are sent on new as well as dangerous missions. That’s why there was no way the House and Senate would recess for the midterm campaign without at least voting on an authorization for the drilling-and-equipping effort.

In contrast, the medics, engineers and logistical support troops being dispatched by the end of the month to combat Ebola should be able to stay out of harm’s way. (They will be given all the protective gear and training they need to avoid becoming infected with the virus — which means avoiding direct contact with the bodily fluids of people already visibly sick.)

But, in other ways, the threats to Americans from ISIS and Ebola are comparable. Both the militants and the epidemic are rapidly spreading halfway around the word. While neither phenomena has yet tarnished U.S. soil, each holds potential to create transformational chaos closer to home soon enough. The administration has expressed concern not only about the capabilities of ISIS for domestic terrorist attacks, but also about the potential for Ebola to spread worldwide and mutate into a more easily transmitted disease.

There’s also the argument that Ebola’s accelerating spread in Africa is becoming a topflight national security threat, because the threat to the fragile governments and economies of the continent could open safe havens for incubating new terrorist groups.

Full story

July 14, 2014

Delayed Benghazi Hearings Equal Deliberate Quiet


Gowdy is taking a deliberate, prosecutorial approach to the Benghazi select committee. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Gowdy is taking a prosecutorial approach as chairman of the special Benghazi committee. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Whatever happened to that summer blockbuster, the one about terrorism and scandal that would be must-see congressional TV?

Don’t expect to be able to tune in to the Benghazi hearings anytime soon. No air date for the premiere has been announced, because the pre-production work is off to a deliberately slow start.

The reason is that the impresario, Rep. Trey Gowdy, is much more experienced as a prosecutor than as an executive producer. And district attorneys, at least as much as studio moguls, are trained to refrain from going public if they have any doubt about their work being ready for prime time.

For reasons both procedural and political, Gowdy has reached a conclusion 10 weeks after he was handed the gavel of a newly created select House committee: The moment is not nearly ripe for the panel to convene in the open to talk about any events before, during or after Sept. 11, 2012, the night when terrorists overran the U.S. consulate and CIA annex in Libya’s second biggest city and four Americans were killed, including Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens.

During his first two terms, Gowdy has gained notoriety as one of Republicans’ most tenacious inquisitors of administration officials, a skill honed during his previous 16 years busting bad guys in South Carolina. His reputation for public zealotry aside, Gowdy understands how caution behind the scenes is the prosecutorial standard.

Many more criminal cases are settled with tidy plea bargains than with of roll-of-the-dice jury trials, and dozens of depositions are taken behind closed doors for every witness cross-examined in open court. The analogue on Capitol Hill is that a whole lot more fact-finding gets done by professional committee investigators away from cameras than by lawmakers posturing in front of them.

Besides, pursuing the inquiry for a while longer before any hearings works to the Republicans’ strategic advantage in several ways.

Full story

July 8, 2014

Cuban Conspiracy Aside, Menendez Troubles Remain


Menendez can breathe a sigh of relief — for the moment. (CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Menendez can breathe a sigh of relief — for the moment. (CQ Roll Call File Photo)

In the short term, anyway, the tide of good news seems to have turned in favor of Robert Menendez.

Officials in his old New Jersey congressional district named an elementary school for the Senate Foreign Relations chairman a few months ago. Then the Democrat celebrated his 60th birthday by announcing his engagement (in the Rotunda) to Alicia Mucci, a 45-year-old widowed constituent he’d met at a fundraiser.

But the best publicity Menendez has enjoyed all year arrived Monday, when the Washington Post reported on evidence the Cuban government may have fabricated and planted the lurid story that has smudged the senator’s reputation since just before his 2012 re-election bid. Menendez crowed to CNN Tuesday that he “wouldn’t be surprised” if the regime in Havana had concocted the smear he had hired several underage Dominican prostitutes — because, he said, it “would do anything it can to stop me.”

What all the righteous indignation and melodramatic skullduggery obscures, however, is that Menendez continues to face questions about behavior that’s far more legally and politically problematic than the already substantially discredited tales about his cavorting at sex parties in the Caribbean.

For nearly two years, the Justice Department has been investigating whether Menendez illegally used his congressional office to benefit the business interests of his most generous donors, particularly Florida ophthalmologist Salomon Melgen. The Senate Ethics Committee appears to have put its similar inquiry on hold in deference to the Feds.

If federal prosecutors end up alleging Menendez broke the law, that would be a much bigger deal for the already dismal ethical reputation of Congress — as well as for the Democratic Party and Latino community — than whether an antagonistic nation was able to make headway with an ambitious conspiracy to ruin an influential lawmaker.

Full story

Sign In

Forgot password?

Or

Subscribe

Receive daily coverage of the people, politics and personality of Capitol Hill.

Subscription | Free Trial

Logging you in. One moment, please...