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March 31, 2015

Posts in "House"

March 16, 2015

Lessons for This Year in Voting Patterns of Last Year

McConnell has led Senate Republicans into infrequently backing Obama, CQ vote studies reveal. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

McConnell’s Senate Republicans rarely side with Obama’s agenda, CQ vote studies reveal. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Given that old adage, “You can’t tell where you’re going unless you know where you’ve been,” casting a close eye over last year’s congressional voting patterns is in order.

Sure, that was an election year for a divided Capitol, while Republicans now run the whole show and their performance isn’t subject to formal assessment by the voters until next year. But still, members behaved in the second half of the 113th Congress in ways distinctive enough to create several storylines to watch throughout the 114th.

Some of the best evidence for that comes from the vote studies conducted annually by CQ Roll Call since the early 1950s. They provide empirical assessments of the previous year’s congressional partisanship and presidential support — both in the House and Senate as institutions and in the ballots cast by each lawmaker. (You can peruse or download all the numbers for the previous year at CQ.com.) Comparing the results year over year and as six-decade trend lines offers proof positive that partisanship and polarization are the drivers of legislative behavior more than in any other period since at least the start of the Eisenhower administration.

Full story

March 5, 2015

The Maryland Democrat Who Wants to Stay Where He Is

Hoyer has been a Pelosi lieutenant for years. Will his wait-it-out strategy pay off? (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

Hoyer has been a Pelosi lieutenant for more than a decade. Will his wait-it-out strategy pay off? (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

One of these House members is not like the others. One of these members doesn’t hope to belong — in the Senate.

If you guess which member from Maryland is the only one not pondering a run for Senate next year, you’ve answered the easiest political trivia question of the week. 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

February 10, 2015

GOP, NBC Have Prominent Players at Similar Crossroads

(Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

(Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Not often do a congressman and an anchorman see their careers simultaneously lurching onto parallel and perilous tracks. But that’s one way of looking at what’s happening with Aaron Schock and Brian Williams.

The situations facing both the Republican House member from Illinois and the face of “NBC Nightly News” appear strikingly similar in many ways. Full story

January 15, 2015

Democrat Has Trick Up His Sleeve to Battle Irrelevance

The debut of Pocan Magic Mondays. (Screenshot)

The debut of Pocan Magic Mondays. (Screenshot)

“We got magic to do, just for you, we got foibles and fables to portray as we go along our way.”

Lyrics from the opening song of the musical “Pippin” are as good a place as any to begin the story of a backbench junior Democrat with one of the more novel approaches to making his mark in the House. 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

December 1, 2014

The Opaque World of Committee Assignments

How did Young, a freshman, end up with a committee assignment? (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

How did Young, a freshman-to-be, end up with a committee assignment on Appropriations? (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

One of the older truisms routinely applied to politicians is, “Where you stand is where you sit.” In other words, their ideology flows clearly from their life experience. And on Capitol Hill, there is this corollary: “Where you sit is what you do.”

That neatly summarizes the importance of committee assignments in the lives of so many lawmakers. And it helps explain why two dozen favored members of the next Congress got to breathe big sighs of relief before Thanksgiving, while all the others are returning for the rest of the lame-duck session to confront complex battles for the remaining placements.

The jockeying and suspense will be especially acute in the House. Its 435 seats make specialization something close to a job requirement, so committee membership takes on outsize importance in driving each member’s legislative priorities and perceived areas of expertise — and in many cases fundraising focus as well. That helps explain why campaigning for a good assignment is an essential focus during every newly elected member’s two-month transition to office, and why the party leaders act as the gatekeepers of membership.

It’s a very different situation in the Senate. Because of statewide constituencies, each senator has a vested interest in becoming familiar with several different areas of public policy. With almost 400 committee seats but only 100 people to fill them, each senator is guaranteed a spot on at least one of the most powerful panels. And because of the seniority system’s continued sway over the institution, the veterans generally get the pick of the litter and the newcomers are left to choose from the best of the rest.

All that, plus the uncertainty of the runoff in Louisiana, means returning senators won’t know for sure about openings on the so-called A committees until the second week in December, with freshmen left waiting to start assessing targets of opportunity.

In the House, the biggest winners have already been announced. Nine Republicans first elected in 2010 and nine from the Class of 2012 (including a pair of subsequent special-election winners) have been tapped for the committees with the most powerful legislative jurisdictions, which therefore provide their membership with the most robust flows of campaign cash. That’s Appropriations, Energy and Commerce, Financial Services and Ways and Means. Another three seats on the banking panel and two on the spending panel were awarded to incoming freshmen. Full story

November 12, 2014

Why Freshman Week Is a Lot Like College Orientation

The GOP's 2014 "wave" of senators pose for a photo with Mitch McConnell, the presumed next Senate majority leader. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

The GOP’s 2014 “wave” of senators pose for a photo with Mitch McConnell, the presumed next Senate majority leader. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

The notion that Congress is like college usually gets highlighted a few times each year: When members are rushing to meet several legislative deadlines before a lengthy recess, they tend to act very much like students at the end of the semester — pulling all-nighters to cram for exams and churn out papers assigned months ago.

But never is Capitol Hill more like a collegiate campus than in the middle of every even-numbered November, when all the newcomer lawmakers arrive — embodying a yeasty mix of wide-eyed naïveté and intensely competitive focus — to begin learning how dramatically their lives are about to change. It may be officially dubbed New Member Orientation, but those who have lived through it routinely describe it as “freshman week.”

Indoctrination into the formalities and folkways of life as a member of Congress begin Wednesday on both sides of the Hill. Six Republicans who have never held federal office before, joined by four Republicans and a single Democrat preparing to decamp from the House, will spend until Friday being instructed by their new Senate colleagues and some senior staffers on the parliamentary procedures, ethical expectations and bureaucratic necessities of their new workplace. (Two potential GOP Senate freshmen won’t be there because their fates won’t be certain for some time,  thanks to slow ballot counting in Dan Sullivan’s Alaska and the runoff in Rep. Bill Cassidy’s Louisiana.)

A similar series of bipartisan orientation meetings, starting with a massive cocktail party Wednesday evening and lasting until a lottery for office assignments on Nov. 19, is in store for at least 42 Republicans and 17 Democrats who have secured seats in the House. (Hope is still alive for GOP challengers to five Democratic incumbents in races that remain too close to call, and a pair of seats won’t be filled until the Dec. 6 Louisiana runoff.)

Full story

October 28, 2014

Wave Would Mean a Diversity Boost for House GOP

(Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

McSally is in a tossup race against Barber. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

After the probability of a Republican takeover of the Senate (for the first time in eight years) and the possibility that more than six governors will be defeated (for the first time in 30 years) comes the other big subplot of the midterm elections: Will Republicans win more than 56 percent of House districts for only the second time since World War II?

Such an achievement — which would require a net gain of nine seats — would be more symbolic than substantive, because the House majority will have essentially the same legislative torque next year whether the roster remains close to its current 233 or grows to the 240s. That appears to be the outer limit of the GOP’s potential for growth, although some late October surprise could allow a bigger wave to build in the campaign’s final days.

But getting to the upper end of that range would be consequential in another way. Realizing pickups in the double digits would require victories by a disproportionate share of the GOP candidates who have not come out of the party’s traditional straight, white male mold. Republicans are on course to expand their female membership and elect at least one black member, and their freshman class could also include a pair of Latinos and two openly gay men.

If many of those people win, and the House Republican Conference is more demographically diverse than ever next year, that could do the party significant good over the long run. Creating a caucus that looks even a little bit more like America, in fact, could be more beneficial in the run-up to 2016 than staging a series of veto showdowns against President Barack Obama in his lame-duck years. Full story

July 30, 2014

The Almost Invisible Final Days of a Once-Forceful Leader

Cantor may not actually exit for another few months, but he's slowly saying goodbye. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

 (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

Eric Cantor’s slow fade toward the exits of the House majority leader’s office is one day from its official completion. But as a practical matter he’s been almost invisible for several weeks.

And at the Capitol, there are no outward signs that one of the most important congressional jobs is changing hands after 43 months — and one stunning primary outcome in central Virginia.

The wet blanket of quiet is another reminder of how Congress, as much as any other prominent American institution, makes quick work of people who lose their clout. “It’s nothing personal, it’s just business,” is one of the institution’s words-to-live-by aphorisms. Another is, “You may be a rooster today, but you’ll be a feather duster soon enough.”

Cantor’s colleagues say they decided to forgo any public ceremony to mark the end of his time as the No. 2 Republican, official as of midnight Thursday. Rather than a round of speeches now — which might come off as funereal so close to his involuntary separation from power — an organized tribute on the House floor will be arranged toward the conclusion of the lame-duck session, when Cantor’s 14-year congressional career will be at its end.

But Republican lawmakers won’t wait until December for their invitation-only wake. The incoming majority leader, Kevin McCarthy of California, is hosting a party for Cantor on Wednesday night at the Capitol Hill Club. On the last evening before lawmakers take off for five weeks, the GOP’s fusty official hangout should be packed with get-away energy. (McCarthy picked the much hipper Blue Jacket at the Navy Yard for the bash he tossed Tuesday night honoring the biggest loser in the post-Cantor leadership shuffle, outgoing chief deputy whip Peter Roskam of Illinois.)

As an interim eulogy staffers assembled a schmaltzy, if brief at just 126 seconds, video about Cantor’s time as majority leader. Shown at Tuesday’s weekly meeting of the House Republican Conference and later distributed to congressional reporters, the highlight reel was long on Cantor’s efforts to soften the rough edges of his fractured caucus. It offered a reminder of his pride in being the only Jewish Republican in Congress. But, predictably, the tape didn’t even hint at his rocky passages as a legislative strategist, his fundraising prowess or his complex relationship with Speaker John A. Boehner. Full story

July 16, 2014

The Republican Civil War Takes a Turn for the Cheekily Uncivil

It’s rare, but sometimes an advertisement in Roll Call says as much about the state of congressional political infighting as our coverage.

Such was the case Wednesday. Page 7 provided an exceptionally tart and juicy morsel of insight into the Republican civil war’s summertime state of play.

The sarcastically gleeful full-page ad was the handiwork of Main Street Advocacy, which exists to stick up for the establishment wing of the GOP in part by promoting the re-election of House and Senate incumbents. The butt of the ad was the Club for Growth, which seeks to defeat those same lawmakers whenever they stray from the strictest of party fiscal orthodoxies.

For this year, anyway, the contest is shaping up as a total rout. One of the most influential players in the tea party movement created a special campaign to take out 10 House members — and every one of them was re-nominated with varying degrees of ease. In other words, a perversely “perfect” political showing.

“Main Street Advocacy congratulates our friends at the Club for Growth,” the ad declares in big type, likening the 0-10 record to such exceptional sports feats as Don Larsen’s perfect game for the New York Yankees in the 1956 World Series, the Miami Dolphins’ perfect NFL season in 1972 and the Indiana Hoosiers men’s basketball team’s perfect season in 1976.

The last of those snide analogies was surely a jape aimed squarely at the president of the insurgent group, Chris Chocola, who represented Indiana in the House for two terms from 2003 to 2006. Full story

Congressman of Lost Era Loved Earmarks, Magic Tricks

(CQ Roll Call File Photo)

(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

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 11, 2014

Boehner’s Bet: Lawsuit Will Quiet Impeachment Calls

Could Boehner's lawsuit tamp down calls for Obama impeachment? (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

Can Boehner’s lawsuit dampen calls for Obama impeachment? (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

More seems curious than straightforward in Speaker John A. Boehner’s current plan for suing President Barack Obama.

But one of the easier things to understand is what the litigation might accomplish inside the House Republican Conference: a cooling of the intensifying and politically problematic talk about how nothing short of impeachment will do.

Legislation to authorize the lawsuit will get its first public hearing on July 16 at the Rules Committee. It’s on course for passage entirely along party lines in two weeks, just before the August recess begins. So it will be toward the end of September, just as Congress is preparing to decamp for the campaign trail, before the House’s lawyers actually take their complaint to the federal courthouse at the foot of Capitol Hill.

That means there’s almost no chance for even a preliminary resolution before the midterm elections. But the schedule will nonetheless provide the infuriated House Republicans several opportunities for venting their bloodlust this summer and fall.

Giving members of the GOP rank and file this way to focus their red meat rhetoric, and their appeals for donations from the hard right, could make calls for impeachment fade, if not quite disappear. And that is what Boehner has made clear he wants.

In this curious way, he is in the same place as his predecessor as speaker, with whom he sees eye-to-eye on next to nothing. Full story

June 25, 2014

Democratic Doves, Threatened Incumbents Complicate President’s Choice on Military Action in Iraq

Kirkpatrick is among the embattled Democrats whose Iraq funding vote could matter in November. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Kirkpatrick is one of the Democrats for whom the Iraq funding vote could matter on Nov. 4. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Parsing an important congressional roll call, let alone comparing two votes on similar questions a dozen years apart, is a complex and caveat-infused exercise.

So reactions ranging from “Of course!” and “Aha!” to “Who knew?” and “What’s up with that?” are bound to spring up when reviewing last week’s House vote on funding for a revived combat operation in Iraq — especially when aligning that tally sheet with the one authorizing the initial invasion of the country.

During the three days of debate on the annual defense spending package, most of the lobbying furor and press attention was on Pentagon procurement priorities, the House’s move to stop any transfers from Guantánamo and the drive to curtail government spying. But for hard core hawks and ardent doves, the key vote was about whether to bar any new U.S. combat operations to help quell the sectarian warfare that’s overtaking Iraq.

The outcome wasn’t even close. Just 3 out of every 8 members (165 total) took the anti-war hard line. (Instead, the House adopted by voice vote a requirement that the administration consult and report to Congress before reviving military involvement.)

While the lopsided result preserved all of President Barack Obama’s options for using force, it masks an important political reality he will be pressed to keep in mind during the next five months. Members of his party with the most to lose on Election Day are minimally supportive of any more war under this commander in chief. Full story

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