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October 21, 2014

Posts in "Political Class"

October 15, 2014

Voter Engagement Gap Hints at GOP Turnout Edge

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Election official David Herod, right, watches early voters cast their ballots Nevada in 2010, when midterm turnout was high for the GOP. (CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Twenty days out, and the sum of all the polling, computer modeling and intangibles says that both Senate storylines are still possible. The headline defining the midterm elections could end up being written by a few thousand people scattered west of the Mississippi and east of the Rockies — voters who may not decide until the afternoon of Nov. 4 whether to head to the local library or school cafeteria to cast the decisive ballots.

The Democrats can still retain their majority by holding their losses to five seats — the number of turnovers currently projected by the Rothenberg Political Report/Roll Call race ratings. But the GOP can still realize a decisive takeover; if all our current Tossup races end up falling to the Republicans, their net gain would be eight seats, two more than the six they need to reclaim control.

Turnout will drive the outcome. And polling in the past couple of weeks has sent strong signals that Republicans are more motivated to get to the polls and so will show up in potentially dispositive numbers.

Democratic voters are less interested in the elections than Republicans, according to survey results released over the weekend by the Wall Street Journal, NBC News and the Annenberg Public Policy Center. The poll found that while all registered voters prefer a Democratic Congress by a narrow 48 percent to 43 percent, the number is more than reversed when it comes to the voters who say they’re very interested in the elections: 51 percent are hoping for a GOP sweep, while just 44 percent are rooting for the Democrats.

Similar, albeit more detailed, numbers were reported a week ago by Gallup. It found that, overall, voters have thought less about the elections, are less motivated to vote and are less enthusiastic about their choices than in the previous two midterms. But the Republican numbers on all three fronts are much better than for the Democrats: 12 points higher on attention paid to the campaign, 19 points higher on motivation to vote and 18 points higher on excitement about voting. “As a result, even if overall turnout is depressed compared with prior years, Republicans appear poised to turn out in greater numbers than Democrats,” Gallup concluded.

The Democrats are keenly aware of this voter engagement gap, which the pollsters say is about what it was before the GOP won control of the House in 2010 — then, just as now, voters were casting ballots to show their dissatisfaction with the job performances of both Congress and President Barack Obama. Full story

October 1, 2014

A Senator to Replace Holder?

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Klobuchar has been mentioned as a possible attorney general pick. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

The latest round of Cabinet handicapping is well underway, a welter of uninformed speculation (mixed with some White House trial balloons) about who might be nominated as attorney general. And the names of three Democratic senators keep getting bandied about — although they’ve all, with varying degrees of intensity, denied interest in the appointment.

From President Barack Obama’s perspective, it would arguably make sense for him, in the short term, to return to the congressional well for one of the final topflight, polarizing positions he’ll ever get the opportunity to fill. But the long-term downsides appear far greater — not only for his own legacy, but for the already wobbly balance of power at the Capitol.

Besides, taking the job at this time doesn’t look like a smart career move for any of the Senate trio meriting recent mention: Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island, Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota and Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut. Full story

September 24, 2014

Latest Partisan Divide: Religion and Politics Should Mix

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Catholicism is the plurality religion of the 113th Congress. A new Pew poll shows that 3 out of 5 people surveyed want lawmakers to have strong religious beliefs. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

“Never discuss politics or religion in polite company” is one of those rules to live by that family elders have been passing on for generations.

Now comes word that half the country has reached a different conclusion: Politics should play a bigger role in our religious discourse.

At the same time, there’s plenty of evidence to support the grandparental view that talking openly about religion and politics will only lead to discord. As with so much, Republicans and Democrats sharply disagree about how and when the two should mix.

Those are the central takeaways from the latest Pew Research Center survey of attitudes and trends shaping public life, released Tuesday. The new numbers add yet another layer to the rich portrait of an electorate that’s divided and conflicted about more or less everything.

Perhaps the most dramatic finding is how the public has rapidly become evenly split when asked if churches and other houses of worship should regularly express their views on social and political issues: 49 percent now say yes, 48 percent say no. It’s a marked reversal from the steady decline in support for church intervention in such matters during the previous decade. Just one campaign season ago, those who wanted churches to stay out of public policy debates outnumbered those who advocated such participation by 14 percentage points.

In addition, 32 percent now say religious leaders should make candidate endorsements — an 8-point jump since the last midterms, in 2010, when the conservative tea party wave delivered the House to the GOP.

Preachers, rabbis, imams and the like have a First Amendment right to explain their views of economic, social or foreign policy to their congregations, and they may engage more directly in campaigns by participating in outside organizations or political action committees. But the IRS has told religious leaders they endanger their faith community’s tax-exempt status whenever they urge a vote for or against a particular candidate from the pulpit. A growing number of preachers, at both ends of the ideological spectrum, have talked about testing the constitutionality of those restrictions.

The survey revealed a deepening partisan split about the role of religion in politics. Two in five Democrats currently think churches should be more vocal about their views, the same as in 2010. But among Republicans the number has surged from half in 2010 to three-fifths today — and to fully two-thirds among white evangelical Protestants. And while 28 percent in the Democratic Party favor churches making candidate endorsements, the same is true for 38 percent in the GOP. Full story

September 7, 2014

Really Rich and Endangered: 50 Richest on the Ballot

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Will their ranks on the 50 Richest Members of Congress list hurt Hagan or Warner this fall? (CQ Roll Call File Photo)

This week’s unveiling of the 50 richest members of Congress, a signature Roll Call annual report, will underscore the recent reality that about 10 percent of the nation’s lawmakers are in the 1 percent when it comes to their net worth.

50RichestLogo 240x240 Really Rich and Endangered: 50 Richest on the BallotAnother reminder that so many members are so much wealthier than their constituents surely won’t do anything for already abysmal congressional approval ratings (an average 14.3 percent in half a dozen national polls since July 4). To most of the electorate, the roster will be just another annoying reminder of a Capitol Hill that too often seems out of touch.

So the only potential suspense is about whether the revelations of riches will complicate the campaigns for the handful of endangered incumbents on the list. The answer is almost certainly not.

 

Full story

July 28, 2014

Possible Senate GOP Majority Would Be Young, but Would Have Enough Elders for Heft

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In a possible GOP Senate majority, Cochran is one of many veterans who could reclaim gavels. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo.)

Conventional wisdom holds that if Republicans take the Senate, generational turnover and term limits will combine to produce a balky and potentially amateurish legislative process next year.

That theory gets challenged by a close look at how the committee gavels are likely to be distributed if the party picks up the necessary six seats, which current race-by-race assessments reveal has become a slightly better than even-money proposition. Eight of the 20 chairmanships — including for almost all the premier policy-making panels — would be held by senators who have had such responsibility in Congress in the past.

In other words, the committee leadership in the 114th Congress would benefit from a significant amount of expertise and seasoning, even though in the aggregate the potential new Senate Republican majority would be relatively inexperienced. (If there are 51 members of the caucus come January, the minimum needed for a takeover, only two-fifths of them will have been senators for a decade or longer.) Full story

July 8, 2014

Members in Waiting: The 20 Candidates Headed to D.C.

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Beyer is likely headed to Congress with little effort. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Perhaps by design, and maybe because of circumstance, Jim Risch remains among the least recognized senators after almost six years on the job. But, given the course of his path to Congress, he was at a big disadvantage from the start — if getting noticed was his desire.

In a place where fascinating back-stories and dramatic arrivals count for much, Risch had neither. He sailed to the Senate without suspense, a very conservative Republican claiming an open seat in very conservative Idaho in 2008, when the national political story was the big Democratic year. His credentials included a reputation for resilience and three decades as a power broker in his state house, but he was overlooked from the start and since then has rarely come off publicity’s back bench.

Risch’s underwhelming first-term impression illustrates one of the odder paradoxes of today’s congressional culture: The easier time a candidate has getting to the Hill, the tougher time that new lawmaker has getting noticed upon arrival.

The incumbents, staffers, operatives, lobbyists and reporters who make up the capital’s political class spend almost all their time at the water cooler handicapping the tight races and getting to know the would-be giant killers and takeover engineers. And those winners get disproportionate attention at the start of their congressional careers. Generally, that comes at the expense of the freshmen who got to Washington without breaking a sweat the previous fall.

The phenomenon comes to mind now that this year’s House and Senate nominees have been finalized in more than half the states — yielding a roster of 20 candidates for open seats who are, in effect, already on their way to the 114th Congress. Because of their constituencies’ demographics and solidly reliable partisan voting history, securing the party nomination in their districts or states is tantamount to winning the general election. Full story

June 25, 2014

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

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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

June 19, 2014

4 Lessons to Ponder After the House Picks a New Majority Leader

Anticlimactic has become the word to describe Thursday’s secret ballot to choose a new House majority leader. Everything points to a solid victory by Rep. Kevin McCarthy of California; the only mixed signals are about whether Rep. Raúl R. Labrador of Idaho will receive more than 50 votes, a symbolic threshold because that’s more than one-fifth of the 233 members of the Republican Conference.

Absent much suspense, it’s not too soon to consider the most important takeaways from the election. Here are four of them: Full story

June 17, 2014

How Hillary Might Deal With the Hill: New Book Offers Hints

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The new Clinton book has high praise for McCain, seen here in 2013, and other Republicans. (CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Some of the most pointed passages in Hillary Rodham Clinton’s new memoir confront the congressional Republican criticism about Benghazi. That’s hardly a surprise, given that the book is so clearly a positioning document for another presidential run in which one major line of GOP attack will be against the former secretary of State’s handling of the assault on that U.S. diplomatic post in Libya.

What comes off as much more of a surprise is how Clinton steers almost entirely clear of criticizing individual Republicans from Capitol Hill, while singling out a collection of prominent establishment GOP members for praise. The roster of congressional name checks in “Hard Choices,” in fact, is remarkably bipartisan. She says nice things about her dealings with a dozen Democratic senators or representatives, but almost as many Republicans, during her eight years in the Senate and her subsequent four years at the State Department.

Counting up the mentions in a prominent politician’s book is among a typical Washington striver’s bad habits, and many on the Hill have been doing just that in the week since the book went on sale.

But in this case, the exercise could offer a clue about how Clinton may deal with Republicans if she seeks or wins the White House in two years. She may be content to remain on decent terms with a small cadre of GOP centrists, the sort President Barack Obama has labeled the “common sense caucus,” while disdaining and dismissing her legions of conservative critics without calling them out individually. Full story

June 12, 2014

Cantor Had No Choice but to Step Aside After Defeat

It was impossible to imagine how Eric Cantor was going to remain House majority leader longer than a few more weeks. The biggest surprise is that he’s decided to hang on to his job title, if not really the job’s duties, until the end of July.

By getting soundly defeated in his Republican primary, Cantor made history as the most prominent member ever spurned by his own party for re-election. But that defeat transformed him on Wednesday into something much more immediately consequential: The most tangibly toothless person in the congressional leadership in more than a century.

Gaining the confidence of your party is the basic prerequisite for getting into the Hill hierarchy. Knowing where your caucus wants to be ideologically, and balancing that against where it needs to be, is a central requirement for staying on the leadership team. Making sure your colleagues remain beholden to you, legislatively and politically, is essential for success in the work — which can be described in blunt political terms as the daily gaining and spending of power.

For Cantor, all of that disappeared in a matter of hours on Tuesday, when his bid for an eighth term was rejected by 56 percent of the voters who had been his political base in central Virginia.

The comparison is far from perfect, but that was the closest thing American politics has seen in a long time to a parliamentary vote of no confidence. And when a prime minister is defeated in one of those, he is duty bound to offer his resignation.

A leader would be foolhardy to do otherwise, because such elections immediately drain the loser of every ounce of political capital. Full story

May 28, 2014

Political Typecasting on the Benghazi Panel

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Cummings will lead the special panel. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

Updated, 3:20 p.m. | With public hearings still weeks away, it’s too soon to fairly predict whether a purely political show trial or a riveting investigatory breakthrough is in store from the House Select Committee on the Events Surrounding the 2012 Terrorist Attack in Benghazi.

But it’s not too early to look at the cast of characters who make up the panel’s membership for clues about what each side has in mind. (Check out our handy cheat sheet.)

In some aspects, the makeup of the parties’ rosters is fundamentally different, in ways that make clear the Republicans are planning to be on offense from the outset while the Democrats are going to dig in to play defense. In other areas, the group is a reminder of the stark biographical differences between the two caucuses. But in a few ways, the committee’s characteristics are curiously different from the House as a whole.

Most consequentially, while one out of every eight districts nationwide is at least somewhat politically competitive at the moment, no one on the select committee sits in one. All 12 are virtually certain to win re-election in November. That means none of them has any short-term political need to adopt the role of evenhanded inquisitor, because none needs to play it down the middle to appeal to the swing voters who could decide their fate.

On the contrary, the Republicans have been given an opportunity to fortify their conservative bases by taking on the Obama administration as forcefully as possible, just as the Democrats have been afforded a way to appeal to their liberal bases by adopting a “Let’s move on, there’s nothing to see here” approach. Full story

May 21, 2014

Running for Governor? The House Might Not Be the Place to Start

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Schwartz ‘s election results likely mean she’ll be joining members who lose races for governor back home. Seen here with fellow Democrats Joe Crowley, left, and Xavier Becerra. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Pennsylvania’s primary voters have put an exclamation point on one of the lesser-understood realities of modern American politics. Being in the House is just not a good starting point for being elected governor.

Rep. Allyson Y. Schwartz was soundly defeated Tuesday in her bid to become the Democratic challenger this November against Republican Gov. Tom Corbett, one of the most politically vulnerable state chief executives in the country. Her loss means that, for the 10th time in the past 13 election cycles, half or more of the members who ran for governor were unsuccessful.

The outcome in Pennsylvania leaves only one other person on the Hill eyeing the top job in a statehouse. That’s Rep. Michael H. Michaud of Maine, who has the Democratic nomination to himself and looks at the moment like a slight favorite come November against Gov. Paul R. LePage, another unpopular GOP incumbent in search of a second term in a currently bluish state.

The fact that only two members of Congress decided to give up their seats for gubernatorial bids is hardly unusual; the number making that move in the past 25 years has ranged from 11 in 1989-90 to just one last cycle. That was when former House GOP Conference Chairman Mike Pence was elected in Indiana, prompting more buzz about his national prospects in 2016 or beyond.

But Pence was something of the exception proving the rule. His victory raised the overall record for congressional lawmakers seeking governorships in the past quarter century to 23 wins and 48 losses — a success rate of just 32 percent.

The result is that, while 49 percent of the Senate’s membership is now made up of former House members, only nine current governors came straight out of Congress. (Two more, independent Lincoln Chafee in Rhode Island and Democrat Mark Dayton in Minnesota, won their positions in comeback bids four years after being pushed out of Senate seats.)

The facts behind the differing fortunes of this year’s two-member class of gubernatorial aspirants, Schwartz and Michaud, help explain the challenges for House members seeking to move up. Full story

May 7, 2014

Why Pryor Decided Time Was Ripe to Appear With Obama

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(Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

He asked for it. And anyone politically savvy enough to win two Senate elections must have decent reasons for doing something that seems so counterintuitive.

Mark Pryor is the only Democrat in the Arkansas congressional delegation and currently a clear-cut underdog to secure another term. That’s mainly because only about a third of the state’s voters approve of the job performance of President Barack Obama, even poorer numbers than his 2012 faring — the president lost Arkansas by 24 percentage points. In 2008, he lost to Sen. John McCain by a mere 20 points in the Natural State.

And yet it was at Pryor’s urging that Obama on Wednesday made his first trip to the state as president — a 150-minute foray that in reality was largely about midterm campaign politics, even though it was officially all about getting the first-responder-in-chief to put his own eyes on the South’s severe natural disasters.

“The federal government’s going to be right here until we get these communities rebuilt,” the president said after touring the tornado-ravaged suburb of Vilonia, 30 miles north of Little Rock. “I know you can count on your senator” and other local officials to deliver what will be required, Obama said, facing the cameras in shirt sleeves with a checkered-shirt-clad Pryor standing near his right shoulder.

Because of some unusual circumstances, the visit did not countermand the conventional wisdom that standing with the president is the most dangerous thing a vulnerable congressional Democrat could do between now and November.

Instead, the event provided Pryor with an extraordinary opportunity to burnish his own political brand. Full story

April 30, 2014

Who You Calling a Carpetbagger?

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Roberts, left, and Brown, right, have been subject to charges of carpetbagging ahead of their (very different) election bids this cycle. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Political rhetoric gauge alert: “People who live in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones.”

The meter surged Tuesday morning when the House GOP campaign organization lambasted one of the year’s most prominent and best-financed Democratic challengers, 27-year-old venture capitalist Sean Eldridge, for “not even trying to hide the fact that he isn’t living in” the upstate New York district where he’s running. “Eldridge’s open contempt for the place he supposedly wants to represent is appalling,” National Republican Congressional Committee spokesman Ian Prior declared.

The news release could easily be dismissed as just another bit of routine springtime campaign hyperventilating. But the histrionics sounded exceptionally hypocritical for this reason: Eldridge was lambasted by an NRCC that is fully aware several of its own top 2014 prospects do not live in their prospective districts, either. Full story

April 29, 2014

Hill Staffers Get Their Turn: Hot Contests for Region’s Voters

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Beyer is running in Virginia’s 8th District, one of three races Hill staffers will likely vote in. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

The people who work in committee or personal offices on Capitol Hill can claim something of a unique benefit from representative democracy: They have more than one set of members to call their own.

Their allegiances aren’t only to the senator or House member, chairman or committee members who keep them on the payroll. Those lawmakers may dominate their workaday lives, but every such staffer is also a local congressional constituent — with a set of political allegiances and ideological interests that may well be different from what’s on display in their day jobs.

And this year, more than any other time in at least the past two decades, these Hill rats will be important players in deciding the makeup of the next Congress. That’s because thousands of them will be voting in three of the hottest contests of the midterms, for the pair of open House seats in northern Virginia and the state’s Senate race, which Republicans hope will become competitive.

Most congressional aides probably live close to their work in the District, where Democrat Eleanor Holmes Norton is once again cruising toward another term (it will be her 13th) as the can’t-vote-on-the-House-floor delegate. Staffers who live in solidly blue suburban Maryland have seen only three congressional races that were even remotely close in the past decade.

But the booming Northern Virginia suburbs, fresh off their star turn as gubernatorial must-wins in 2013 and presidential bellwethers in both 2008 and 2012, are now looking at a very expensive triple encore in 2014. Commuters who cross the Potomac for jobs at the Capitol could prove decisive if all three contests remain close until their climaxes.

And they will all probably have the opportunity to vote for someone who knows their line of work: former Hill staffers are running as Republicans in all three races. Full story

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