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March 28, 2015

Posts in "Political Class"

March 26, 2015

Voting Marathon: More Test Marketing Than Attack Ads

Begich was able to deflect campaign attack ads stemming from the vote-a-rama. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Begich was able to deflect campaign attack ads stemming from the Senate’s vote-a-rama. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Senators readying their patience, their reading material and even their bladders for the annual ritual known as the “vote-a-rama” may rightfully be getting ready to ask, “Will it be worth it?”

The answer, predictably, depends on who’s posing the question. A look back over the past decade reveals a divide that countermands the conventional wisdom. For those wishing to make life miserable in the next elections for their Senate colleagues across the aisle, the answer is a version of, “Not so much.” For those hoping to uncover hidden pockets of legislative momentum, the answer is, “Sometimes.” Full story

March 12, 2015

Republican Opposition to Lynch Might Make History

How many Republican votes will Lynch get? (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

How many Republican votes will Lynch get? (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

The most amazing thing about the Loretta Lynch story is that the congressional community no longer views it as amazing.

Lynch is on course to be confirmed this month after the longest wait ever for a nominee to be attorney general — and very likely by the closest vote ever to put a new person in charge of the Justice Department. Full story

March 4, 2015

Landmark Supreme Court Cases Ahead, but Not on TV

Sotomayor has changed her views on cameras in the courtroom since her 2009 confirmation hearings. (CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Sotomayor has changed her views on cameras in the courtroom since her 2009 confirmation hearings. (CQ Roll Call File Photo)

It’s arguably the most important single hour of federal policymaking this year, and it’s happening Wednesday morning inside a government building on Capitol Hill. But except for clusters of reporters and attorneys, joined by a few dozen citizens who’ve waited hours in a long queue for a glimpse, the event will remain invisible forever.

The occasion is the Supreme Court oral argument, starting at 10 a.m., in a case threatening the viability of the 2010 Affordable Care Act. The justices are going to decide if one phrase fails to legally underpin one of the statute’s central provisions: Tax breaks for poor and middle-income Americans who obtain medical insurance through the federal government’s new online marketplace.

King v. Burwell is one of this term’s landmark disputes, along with the cases that could establish a constitutional right for gay couples to marry, to be argued this spring. Health care for millions is threatened in the first instance, and the civil rights of millions is at stake in the other. But taxpayers whose futures hang in the balance will never get to witness their government in action at this important juncture. Full story

February 25, 2015

Immigration Testimony Revives a Senate Soap Opera

Laxalt, right, (Scott J. Ferrell/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Laxalt, right, is the grandfather of the Nevada attorney general who will testify Wednesday. (CQ Roll Call File Photo)

There are 27 states where the attorney general is a Republican, and 22 of them have signed on to the lawsuit challenging President Barack Obama’s effort to limit deportations. But only one of them is being ushered under the national spotlight Wednesday morning as the single elected official asked to testify before the House Judiciary Committee on “the unconstitutionality of President Obama’s executive overreach.”

Curiously, he’s been in office for less than two months and his state was the most recent to join the litigation, which has become this winter’s newest pivot point in the increasingly acrimonious balance-of-power battle over immigration policy. But almost nothing happens at the Capitol by happenstance, so there are a couple of readily apparent reasons why Nevada Attorney General Adam Paul Laxalt would have been chosen as the star witness of the day. Full story

February 24, 2015

Oscar-Winning Portrayals About Legislative Impasse

Common and John Legend (Kevin Winter/Getty Images)

Common and John Legend. (Kevin Winter/Getty Images)

There’s always at least of whiff of politics at the Oscars, but the speeches this year touched on as many different hot-button issues in Congress as ever.

Almost all the appeals for action were jabs from the left, readily predictable given the homogeneity of the movie industry’s ideology. So, almost all the passionate provocateurs are bound to be disappointed with what they hear out of the Capitol — at least between now and the 89th annual Academy Awards in 2017. Full story

February 23, 2015

Why a Fired Fire Chief Got on Capitol Hill’s Radar

Loudermilk, seen here with his family during his January mock-swearing in, is defending a fired fire chief. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Loudermilk, seen here with his family during his January mock-swearing in, is defending a fired fire chief. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

The firing of Atlanta’s fire chief has already become a flashpoint in the debate over how to balance the religious beliefs of public officials against the civil rights of their constituents. Now the argument has spread to the Capitol — prompting questions about proper congressional roles in local controversies, especially when statewide electoral and legislative consequences lie just below the surface.

Chief Kelvin Cochran was dismissed six weeks ago, after a city investigation into a self-published book laying out his evangelical Christian religious beliefs. Its most incendiary passage described being gay or lesbian as a “sexual perversion” comparable to pedophilia or bestiality and labeled homosexual acts as “vile, vulgar and inappropriate.” Full story

February 12, 2015

Power Primer: Obama Veto of Keystone Is Just One Step

In this 2007 archival photo, Ron Auerbach, 8, delivers petitions to the White House to protest President George W. Bush's veto of the State Children's Health Insurance Program. (CQ Roll Call File Photo)

In this 2007 photo, 8-year-old Ron Auerbach delivers petitions to the White House to protest President George W. Bush’s veto of the State Children’s Health Insurance Program. (CQ Roll Call File Photo)

It looks like a refresher course is in order on how Congress handles a veto, procedurally and politically.

It’s been four years and four months since the last time a president rejected a bill that landed on his desk. And 243 House members, along with 54 senators, have taken office since the last time legislation was enacted despite such a veto.

The most recent veto date (October 2010) is about to be eclipsed, because President Barack Obama has left no doubt he’s going to return the measure approving the Keystone XL oil pipeline. But the most recent override marker (July 2008) is guaranteed to remain a while longer, because neither side of the Capitol has the two-thirds majorities required to make the Keystone bill into a law without the president’s say-so. 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

February 9, 2015

2020 Census Might Offer Hope for Democrats

What will the 2020 census mean for reapportionment and redistricting? (CQ Roll Call File Photo)

What might the 2020 census mean for congressional reapportionment and redistricting? (CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Even at the center of the Beltway’s echo chamber, the preoccupation with a presidential election almost two years away is starting to sound a bit crazy. So maybe the best antidote is to start talking about an important political occasion more than five years in the future.

It’s the next census, on April Fools’ Day 2020. Just a handful of the numbers will have a significant effect on the congressional power structure, most importantly whether Democrats gain a better shot in the next decade at controlling the House. Full story

February 5, 2015

It’s Not Easy Being a Presidential Candidate With an M.D.

A Paul 2016 bid could be complicated by the fact he is a doctor. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

A Paul 2016 bid could be complicated by the fact that he is a doctor. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Rand Paul is looking to run the most serious presidential campaign ever by a physician, but in the early going his medical degree is proving more of a complication than a benefit.

Just this week, the Kentucky senator’s presumed expertise as a doctor has set him apart from his potential 2016 Republican rivals in two controversial ways — with his declaration that most childhood immunizations should be voluntary, and because of new details about why he’s not certified by the national board in his specialty of ophthalmology. Full story

January 25, 2015

Reid Surgery a Crucial Moment in a Storied Career

The Reid surgery is scheduled for Monday. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

Reid’s surgery is scheduled for Monday. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

This is one of the most pivotal weeks in Harry Reid’s personal life, not to mention his congressional career.

How he handles Monday’s complex surgery to rebuild a crushed orbital socket and remove pools of blood behind and in front of his right eyeball will not only determine whether the Nevadan regains the vision he lost earlier this month in a freakish exercising mishap. His recovery’s pace and comprehensiveness also will help decide how long he remains the top Senate Democrat and his ability to seek re-election next year. Full story

January 13, 2015

Centrist Democrats on McConnell’s List of Potential Collaborators

McCaskill could end up being one of the Centrist 7 McConnell turns to when he needs Democratic help. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

McCaskill, front, could end up being one of the “centrist seven” McConnell turns to if and when he needs some Democratic help. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

It’s safe now to forget about the “red state four,” the quartet of Democrats whose defeats in conservative-leaning states last year assured the Senate GOP takeover. And the inevitable creation of the next “gang of six” (or eight, or 12, or whatever) is at least one legislative impasse in the future.

For now, the grouping of senators deserving the most attention is the “centrist seven,” the cluster of Democrats who stand out as the likeliest to get behind aspects of the new Republican majority’s legislative program. And they may be joined once in a while by as many as five others in their party who’ve shown flashes of moderation in the recent past, yielding a universe of potential aisle-crossers who could be dubbed the “dispositive dozen” of the 114th Congress. Full story

December 8, 2014

Truce in ‘Nuclear’ Filibuster War May Be Senate GOP’s Best Option (Video)

McConnell, seen here during Sen. Ted Cruz's filibuster ahead of the 2013 government shutdown, has a decision to make about the nuclear option. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

McConnell, seen here during Sen. Ted Cruz’s 2013 filibuster before the government shutdown, has a decision to make on the nuclear option. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Beyond the sort of brinkmanship that always grabs public attention in the waning hours of the legislative year, one story out of Congress is going to fascinate the insiders and may infuriate the institutionalists.

Senate Republicans will meet Tuesday to debate what to do about the filibuster after they take over the place in four weeks. Will they make good on a threat to double-down on the “nuclear option” exercised by the Democrats, which would mean neutralizing the filibuster as a tool for stopping legislation in addition to nominations? Will they do the opposite and declare themselves totally magnanimous, proposing to return the rules to the way they were so the Democrats might begin leveraging the historic power of the minority? Or will they go to neither extreme and acquiesce in the new normal?

Full story

December 2, 2014

Lessons for Lovers of Long-Shelved Budget Reconciliation

Democrats like then-Rep. Charles A. Gonzalez protested Republicans using reconciliation in 2005. (CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Democrats, including then-Rep. Charles A. Gonzalez, protested the Republicans using reconciliation in 2005. (CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Maybe if it was called “the gridlock slayer” instead of “budget reconciliation,” more people in the Capitol’s orbit would be getting excited about the revival of a form of legislative magic that hasn’t been practiced in almost five years.

One of the biggest congressional stories of 2015 is going to be how the Republicans, in total control for the first time in eight years, conjure many of their boldest and fondest policymaking desires into a single legislative punch and then whisk the huge behemoth past Democratic senators stripped of their normal filibuster powers. The only potential mystery is whether they’ll end up watching helplessly as the entire conservative fireball gets vaporized with a few swooshes of President Barack Obama’s pen.

That’s because the sorcery of reconciliation, while very powerful, has an even more forceful antidote: the veto.

For those who’ve arrived on the Hill since the last midterms — after swearing-in day on Jan. 6, that will include at least 44 senators and about 48 percent of the House — a very short course in the recently moribund budget process may be helpful as a starting point. Full story

November 19, 2014

Election Trivia for Political Wonks, Part 2

Two of these senators make our election trivia fodder by being re-elected in 2014 by smaller-than-expected margins despite being in safe seats. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Two of these senators make our election trivia for being re-elected in 2014 by smaller-than-expected margins, despite being in safe seats. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Maybe the lovers of congressional curiosities still haven’t mined the 2014 election results for all the political and institutional trivia pushed toward the surface.

An initial potpourri was offered Tuesday in this space — fun and sometimes consequential facts that go beyond the historic statistics that put context behind Republicans’ midterm sweep. That, of course, is the GOP’s current net gain of 11 House seats assures them their largest majority since the Truman administration, and their potential pickup of nine Senate seats would be the biggest boost for either party since 1980.

A special election held on Nov. 4 means Congress now has its 100th voting female member for the first time, in North Carolina Democrat Alma Adams, and the midterms assured more diversity in the coming year. Debbie Dingell of Michigan has become the first person elected to the House as successor to a living spouse, for example, and the arrival of Baptist pastors Jody Hice of Georgia and Mark Walker of North Carolina (both Republicans) will expand to six the roster of Protestant ministers in the House.

(You can learn more about the members-elect in our Guide to the New Congress.)

Here is another collection of trivia questions and answers designed to provide insight into the meaning, consequences and oddities of the 2014 cycle. See Part I here.

Full story

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