Roll Call: Latest News on Capitol Hill, Congress, Politics and Elections
April 24, 2014

Posts in "Political Class"

April 14, 2014

Can You Lie in Politics? Supreme Court Will Decide

chabot 08 111510 445x295 Can You Lie in Politics? Supreme Court Will Decide

The Supreme Court will consider a case about lying in politics, revisiting a fight from Chabot’s 2010 campaign in Ohio. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

The Supreme Court has made pretty clear that putting your money where your mouth is deserves broad protection as a form of free political speech. The justices are about to consider whether outright lying in a campaign deserves a similar First Amendment shield.

The court’s recent decisions easing the flow of generous campaign contributions already shifted the electoral landscape. If the court finds that even the most patently outrageous statements about candidates may not be barred by law, those two decisions combined could expand the rhetorical battlefield of the midterm elections and raise the attack ad volume as never before.

With Congress in the middle of its spring recess, few if any members are expected to attend the April 22 oral arguments. But they will all surely have their ears tuned for word about the decision, expected by the end of the term in June.

Full story

April 8, 2014

A Case for Moran: ‘Underpaid’ Is Accurate

moran003 011514 445x298 A Case for Moran: Underpaid Is Accurate

(Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

He’s sounding politically tone deaf, of course, but on the merits Rep. James P. Moran has a solid case to make about congressional compensation.

Social media lit up with ridicule for the suburban Virginia Democrat last week, after he boldly told my colleague Hannah Hess, “The American people should know the members of Congress are underpaid.”

It’s a call to arms that someone running for re-election, even in the safest district, would be a fool to make at a time when the institution’s approval rating stands at a near-record-low 15 percent and the median household income in the United States is less than one-third of a member’s annual salary of $174,000.

Which is why, amid all the howling about how Moran should have his head examined (right after he’s impeached), there’s been precious little interest in understanding the justifiable reasons for such a provocative complaint, let alone what the congressman would do to improve the situation. Full story

March 28, 2014

Congress Will Allow Government Retirement System to Stay in the Cave Age

Ways Means IRS 26 051713 445x335 Congress Will Allow Government Retirement System to Stay in the Cave Age

Kelly represents the district that houses what The Washington Post labeled the ‘Sinkhole of Bureaucracy’ in Boyers, Pa. (Douglas Graham/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

There’s a nickname for news reports so provocative that readers are compelled to give them a literal shout out. They’re called “Hey, Martha!” stories — as in, “Hey, Martha! Come read over my shoulder: You’re not going to believe this!”

Just such a doozy dominated The Washington Post’s front page on March 23. It detailed how the government processes federal worker retirement forms: entirely by hand, almost exclusively on paper and always deep inside an old mine in rural western Pennsylvania.

As if that picture of bureaucratic inefficiency were not jaw-dropping enough, the story explained the sobering consequences: The process takes an average of 61 days. More than 23,000 cases are backlogged on a typical day. And, after spending more than $130 million since the late 1980s on three different modernization efforts that failed, there’s almost no chance the system will hook up to the computer era — let alone the Internet age — in the foreseeable future.

What that means is that more than 100,000 outgoing government employees annually — dozens of veteran congressional staffers and Capitol complex laborers among them — can expect to wait more than two months before their retirement is official and they start seeing their full benefits. (Usually, checks representing partial estimated payments show up sooner, but even those became seriously delayed during last fall’s partial government shutdown.)

In the current tight budget climate, and given that combating federal retiree hardships isn’t a politically important cause for many lawmakers, Congress will not be spending what it takes to automate or digitize the process — or to bring it out of the darkness.

But, just as it won’t seek credit for ending the cave age system, it doesn’t deserve credit for starting it, either.

People familiar with the Hill’s old earmarking culture may assume the paperwork mine came into being under the auspices of a couple of powerful lawmakers. The available circumstantial evidence suggests otherwise.

Full story

March 26, 2014

Campaigns, Take Note: Braley’s, Brown’s and McConnell’s Unforced Errors Offer Lessons Aplenty

iowa fair075 081511 445x295 Campaigns, Take Note: Braleys, Browns and McConnells Unforced Errors Offer Lessons Aplenty

Braley at the Iowa State Fair in 2011. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Running gets a lot tougher when you’ve injured yourself. Three topflight Senate candidates are about to find out whether their aspirations have been slowed a bit by a political stubbed toe — or hobbled indefinitely because they’ve shot themselves in the foot.

Within just a few news cycles this week, we saw a trifecta of unforced errors. Ex-Sen. Scott P. Brown volunteered “probably not” when asked if he has the proper credentials to seek a seat in his newly adopted home state of New Hampshire. Rep. Bruce Braley apologized after seeming to gratuitously insult all the farmers in his native Iowa. And Mitch McConnell was forced — twice! — to alter a campaign advertisement because of footage that caused consternation in basketball-crazed Kentucky.

The cluster of incidents underscore several truisms about modern competitive congressional contests: Virtually everything a candidate does or says gets noticed, recorded and repeated. Symbolic snippets that reinforce problematic aspects of a politician’s reputation stand to be remembered more than a dense policy speech or an extensive voting record.

And so those who head out on the stump would do well to adopt the physician’s maxim, “First, do no harm.” Full story

March 24, 2014

Doctors Win, Jobless Lose: The GOP Confronts New Perception Problem

The week is still young, so there’s time left for the Republicans to change course. But for now, the party is moving assertively toward generating one of the most tin-eared headlines of this campaign year:

Congress bails out doctors again but still spurns the unemployed.

Through a confluence of circumstances, the two measures likely to get the most attention at the Capitol for the next several days would each cost about $10 billion, and both include budgetary offsets making them deficit-neutral.

But only one is likely to ever get cleared: Legislation giving physicians significant, if not-quite-total relief, lasting until after the election, from the 24 percent cut in their Medicare fees that is set to take effect next month. Full story

March 12, 2014

Feinstein Shifts Slow-Burning Anger From Guns to Spies

feinstein 138 031114 445x306 Feinstein Shifts Slow Burning Anger From Guns to Spies

(Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

Few senators wait until their 80s, or the start of their third decade in office, to have their breakout moment. But that’s what this past year has been for Dianne Feinstein.

At the end of last winter, the California Democrat surged to national renown as the most passionately vocal and dogged lawmaker in the uphill pursuit of the strictest new gun controls in more than a generation. The attention, both laudatory and condemning, was more than what most members receive in any one Congress. But now Feinstein is on course to outdo herself, with her blockbuster accusation that the CIA spied on Congress and intimidated her staff in an effort to hobble an oversight investigation into the agency’s former detention and interrogation program.

The twin crusades, which now stand to define the pinnacle of her prominence, are closely allied in one important way: Both have Feinstein playing against type, deploying blistering rhetoric and challenging hidebound practices in sharp contrast to her reputation, which is for level-headedness and deliberation.

At the same time, the two causes are polar opposites: Gun control has been a priority for the senator since 1978, when she ascended to the mayoralty of San Francisco after the incumbent, George Moscone, was assassinated. But becoming an outspoken critic of the clandestine community is an entirely new role for Feinstein; as chairwoman of the Senate Intelligence Committee for more than five years, she has positioned herself as one of the CIA’s most loyal defenders at the Capitol.

It’s that forceful reversal that may prove more lastingly important. Full story

March 10, 2014

Florida Tossup Tests Patterns for Special Elections

Representative elect Katherine Clark 37 121213 445x296 Florida Tossup Tests Patterns for Special Elections

Clark is among the many women who came to the House via a special election. Will the same hold true for Sink in a Florida special election Tuesday? (Douglas Graham/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Whatever the outcome of Tuesday’s tight congressional contest in Tampa Bay, this footnote is assured: The winner will become the 64th person in the current House first sent to the Capitol by a special election. That’s an astonishing 15 percent of the membership.

Florida’s contest between Democrat Alex Sink and Republican David Jolly is the year’s first valid test of midterm voter sentiment, but at the historical edges it’s something more: an opportunity to see whether women and Democrats continue their run of good fortune when the voters go to the polls in between the even-numbered Novembers.

The campaign in suburban St. Petersburg, a swing district held for four decades by the late GOP Rep. C.W. Bill Young, has encapsulated themes that look to remain prominent across the country for the next eight months. Jolly, a lobbyist and former top aide to Young, would portray his win as a repudiation of the 2010 health care law and the Obama administration agenda. Sink, a former chief financial officer for Florida, would portray her victory as a rejection of conservative efforts to curb Social Security and otherwise rend the social safety net.

And the losing party is sure to downplay the result and insist the election is not a national harbinger, while clamoring to improve its positioning for the contest for the very same seat in November.

Recent history suggests that task would be an uphill climb: 85 percent of special-election winners so far in the 21st century have won at least two subsequent general elections. (Only six have been turned away after such short careers, most recently a pair of Democrats in 2012 whose districts were significantly redrawn after their initial arrivals: Kathy Hochul, who represented upstate New York for 19 months, and Mark Critz, who held his southwestern Pennsylvania seat for one term and seven months.) Full story

March 5, 2014

Year’s Quirkiest Comeback Bid Could Complicate GOP’s Senate Takeover Plan

29A5BBF5 2B43 4751 AE4B ED1FFAD06100 416x335 Years Quirkiest Comeback Bid Could Complicate GOPs Senate Takeover Plan

(CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Hill denizens of a certain age well remember the unpredictable Larry Pressler. He could be earning another entry as the answer to a political trivia question soon enough.

Pressler spent 18 years in the Senate representing South Dakota as a Republican before he was defeated in 1996 by just 8,600 votes. Now that the Democrat who sent him packing, Tim Johnson, is retiring after his own three terms, Pressler has decided he’s ready to try yet another comeback — as an independent.

The nascent campaign is easy to dismiss as an entirely quixotic ego play by a quirky 71-year-old career politician with a story already marked by several halfhearted runs toward the unattainable. That would be a bid for president when he was a 37-year-old Senate freshman, though he pulled out before the first primary. And a pitch to be mayor of Washington, D.C., two years after leaving Congress, but he never filed the paperwork. He ran for his state’s sole House seat four years after that, but more or less gave up and got crushed in the GOP primary by the incumbent governor.

This time, though, Pressler is pursuing his presumably last hurrah seriously enough that he’s already made a TV ad that aired during the Academy Awards. In the sparsely populated and relatively inexpensive state, he won’t have to raise much to reintroduce himself to the electorate. (My colleague Kyle Trygstad dug up Pressler’s year-end Federal Election Commission report that showed he brought in just under $30,000, including a $25,000 personal loan.)

His message — that Capitol Hill needs more mavericks like him and that he’d remain unbeholden by staying just one term — will resonate at least somewhat in a year of anti-incumbent fervor and disdain for partisan entrenchment.

Since World War II, three defeated senators have won their old jobs back. But each did so within four years of losing, and the last such return engagement began a quarter-century ago, with Washington Republican Slade Gorton.

Eight months from Election Day, Pressler remains the longest of long shots. (The Rothenberg Political Report/Roll Call rate this race Favored Republican.) But if he becomes even a modestly credible third player in the race, he would at least make life more complicated for his longtime colleagues in the Republican Party, who have been counting on a victory by former Gov. Mike Rounds to be the easiest of the six pickups they require to take the Senate. Full story

March 4, 2014

The Real Story of Texas GOP Primaries: Democratic Turnout

san anton010 082913 445x298 The Real Story of Texas GOP Primaries: Democratic Turnout

Rep. Joaquin Castro signs the cover of an issue of Texas Monthly which shows him, his brother San Antonio Mayor Julian Castro and Davis. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Parsing the Republican results from this year’s first-in-the-nation Texas primaries will surely dominate Wednesday’s political talk. The media will ask how nettlesome Rep. Steve Stockman’s challenge to Sen. John Cornyn proved to be and which of the 23 House members seeking re-election got the biggest scare? How easy was it for state Attorney General Greg Abbott to secure the gubernatorial nomination?

The answers are important because they are 2014’s initial number-based assessment about the current state of the fight between the solidly conservative Republicans and the extraordinarily conservative Republicans — a battle that’s still clearly shaping the party’s national fortunes in the short term.

But in terms of predicting the GOP’s long-term prospects, the more important data may be generated by the Democrats. How many turn out for their generally low-impact contests Tuesday will offer a big clue about the speed at which Texas will be shifting from solid red to bright purple.

Big political change in the state is coming as inevitably as so many of the winter storms that have hobbled the capital this year — but the precise timing of its arrival is similarly difficult to forecast. Full story

February 18, 2014

Why House Democrats’ Twin Discharge Drives Are Likely Duds

This recess week affords enough quiet at the Capitol that you can almost hear House Republicans getting into a defensive crouch. It’s their best posture for preventing exposures of internal discord, the sort of fractious drama that could do as much as anything to sap their advantages this midterm election year.

House Democrats see the protective shell receding and are determined to pry it loose. But their tools are limited. And the one they’ve been talking about most enthusiastically in recent days — the discharge petition — has a high probability of failure.

It’s almost certainly not going to realize the stated legislative objective, which is to break the deadlock created by conservatives on both immigration and increasing the minimum wage. But neither is it likely to produce the unstated political objective, which is to push the GOP into looking like the sort of discordant and mean-spirited mess that’s undeserving of running the House for another two years.

The reason for those predictions is the same on both counts. There just aren’t enough genuine moderates in the Republican conference, nor a sufficient number of endangered GOP incumbents, to give either discharge petition a chance for success. Full story

February 12, 2014

‘Taking One for the Team’ Isn’t a Concept Boehner Can Rely On

People looking for clues about the current strength and future prospects of John A. Boehner’s speakership should come to one conclusion: He can no longer count on Republicans taking one for the team.

There’s evidence in Tuesday’s debt limit vote to support the view that he pulled off a neat sleight of hand to shield his conference from another self-inflicted wound. But there’s at least as much evidence that Boehner’s control over the outcome was much more tenuous than it could have been — or should have been if his aim is to quell the speculation about his future in the House.

Soon after 28 Republicans joined 193 Democrats to pass legislation lifting the debt ceiling for the next year without any conditions, my colleagues Matt Fuller and Emma Dumain reported this fascinating fact: It was the fewest number of votes from a majority for a bill that passed the House since at least 1991.

That would appear to be the final nail in the strategic coffin for the increasingly sidestepped “Hastert Rule,” which dictates that every bill GOP leadership puts to a vote must muster a majority from the majority.

In the few hours before the roll call, but after Boehner announced his tactical surrender in the four-year debt limit war, he made clear he wasn’t out to run up the score for his position. Instead, he said he would revert to the traditional way of handling the politically problematic need to increase Treasury borrowing: The president’s party would be expected to pull most of the weight. Full story

February 9, 2014

Newest Senator Will Test (Historically Limited) Potency of Appointed Incumbency

luncheons tw002 111313 261x335 Newest Senator Will Test (Historically Limited) Potency of Appointed Incumbency

( Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

Although John Walsh will become the newest senator on Tuesday, the historical record and the political temperature in Montana suggest he’ll have no better chance of winning this fall’s Senate race than he did before.

The conventional wisdom is that Gov. Steve Bullock has done his hand-picked lieutenant governor and fellow Democrat a phenomenal favor by sending him to Washington now. The post offers guaranteed visibility that will enhance his name recognition, the benefits of being on the inside that will boost his fundraising and the powers of the job that will allow him to deliver in ways that will prove the power of incumbency impossible to beat.

In fact, that’s hardly been the rule in the past, and it hardly looks to be reliably the case this year.

Walsh’s name will be added to the roster of 51 appointed senators of the past half-century. But of that group, only 19 of the 36 who tried went on to leverage the advantages of incumbency into election in their own right — a 56 percent success rate. Another 15 were placeholders who got out of the way at the next election.

And the final two, both tapped at the end of 2012, will now be joined by Walsh in seeing their places in that database decided this year. Each falls into a different camp. Full story

January 29, 2014

Before Going It Alone, Obama Goes After Members

“Upbeat.” That’s the adjective being used as much as any other to describe the tone of Tuesday’s State of the Union address. Members from both parties could be forgiven for hearing it a bit differently.

The speech may well be remembered longest for its genuinely stirring finale, when President Barack Obama merged the story of a 10-times-deployed and gravely wounded Afghanistan war veteran, who was sitting in the balcony, with the country’s difficult path toward a more perfect union. “Like the America he serves, Sgt. 1st Class Cory Remsburg never gives up, and he does not quit,” Obama declared to a sustained and teary-eyed standing ovation.

But in the preceding 63 minutes, the president mixed it up plenty with the audience in the House chamber. And he made clearer than ever that he views the Capitol as a readily avoidable impediment — generating headlines about Obama pursuing a “year of action” mainly on his own authority. He also took a handful of swipes at Congress, and they were arguably aimed at least as often at the institution’s bipartisan shortcomings as at his Republican tormentors.

The japes were somewhat subtle, by the standards of today’s political discourse. And they are being overlooked, probably for a couple of reasons that have to do with the ritualized ways of the modern State of the Union:

The lawmakers themselves have become almost excessively adept at cooking up their partisan talking points hours beforehand, and repeating them verbatim with minimal regard to what they actually hear. So not all that many of them picked up on his poking one-liners — all of which were at the relative low end of the dismissive-disdainful-disparaging spectrum.

Full story

January 12, 2014

A Balance of Powers Case With Senate GOP Power in the Balance

One of the biggest congressional stories of the decade starts unfolding Monday — not at the Capitol, but across the street.

The Supreme Court will hear arguments in an epic balance of powers battle between the other two branches, one that’s been waiting to happen since George Washington’s time. During the hour, the justices may or may not signal clearly whether they’re going to permit the continued expansive use of the president’s recess appointment authority — or seriously limit its use for the first time.

That second outcome would give the Senate enormously more influence over the leadership of the departments and agencies and the tenor of the federal courts. But if the court rules that way, it will be almost impossible to notice any difference in the power dynamic before the beginning of next year — if then.

It may sound a bit paradoxical, but it’s the “nuclear option” that would guarantee such a delayed reaction.

And during that delay, a new measure of importance would get attached to the midterm elections. Full story

November 25, 2013

Politics as Family Business: When Bad Moods Trump Big Dynasties

What’s up with the family business is a perennial default conversation starter at so many Thanksgiving dinners. And that’s likely to be especially true around the tables of families in the business of winning federal campaigns.

From the three-years-away handicapping of the next presidential race to the premature speculation about who might fill a possible opening in the House, a big share of campaign talk these days is once again about American political dynasties — their virtues and flaws, staying powers and limitations, rising stars and fading forces. 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...