Roll Call: Latest News on Capitol Hill, Congress, Politics and Elections
November 25, 2015

Posts in "Scandalous"

November 19, 2015

Bill Shuster Wants ‘Like Father, Like Son’ Moment

bill shuster

(Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

When negotiators on the highway and mass transit bill formally convened Wednesday, it took only a few minutes for them to cut their first deal: Rep. Bill Shuster was named chairman of the conference committee.

The decision further cements the Pennsylvania Republican’s standing as one of the most prominent legislators of the year — and it raises the stakes for his performance in the next few weeks.

A new set of policies and payments for public works, six years overdue, is now tantalizingly close to becoming one of the biggest achievements in the first year of the 114th Congress. Shuster made clear at the conferees’ opening session he will press hard for an agreement soon after next week’s holiday recess.

“So, staff on both sides of the aisle, happy Thanksgiving,” he said.

It’s a moment he’s been preparing for throughout his three years at the helm of the House Transportation and Infrastructure panel. But he began his schooling for this time as a boy, aided by the example and perhaps the genetics of his father. Full story

November 4, 2015

The Ryan Rule: Whose Portrait Is Next?

From left, Pelosi, Rep. Eric Cantor, Boehner, and Hastert at Hastert's portrait unveiling in 2009. (CQ Roll Call File Photo)

From left, Pelosi, Rep. Eric Cantor, Boehner, and Hastert at Hastert’s portrait unveiling in 2009. (CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Just days into the job, Speaker Paul D. Ryan has now made two decisions that deliver a powerful signal about how he’ll be the institutional steward of the House.

First, by declaring he’ll keep sleeping in his office, and now by having J. Dennis Hastert’s ceremonial portrait carted off to oblivion, Ryan is sending a clear message about his priorities: Trying for a short-term boost in the abysmal reputation of Congress — by using symbolic gestures that are easy for the electorate to understand — is more important than shielding the long-term reputation and historical stature of the legislative branch. 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

September 10, 2015

A Tale of Two House Democrats on Opposite Courses Toward the House Exits

(Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

(Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

They are a pair of congressmen looking to be in the prime of their public lives. Both are party loyalists with unabashedly progressive views and constituencies as deeply “blue” as they are. Both are emblematic of a caucus that’s trending less white and more liberal. Their names even appear close together on the alphabetical roll of House Democrats.

And yet it’s become clear in recent days they are on opposite political trajectories. One is getting pushed toward a potential ride to national prominence. The other is returning to a treacherous path pointed toward electoral oblivion, if not personal disgrace.

As a result, both Reps. Hakeem Jeffries of Brooklyn and Michael M. Honda of the Silicon Valley may well be gone from Congress in two years. Their stories are another reminder that while the House Democrats will probably remain mired in the minority for years to come, there are all sorts of reasons why their membership roster is hardly static. And the most ambitious among them increasingly find themselves confronting others from their own party when they come to crossroads in their careers. Full story

July 23, 2015

High-Risk, Delayed-Reward Strategy for Fighting Menendez Indictment

(Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

(Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Sen. Robert Menendez has raised the legal stakes for all of Congress, and bought some crucial time for his own imperiled career, with the aggressive strategy he’s unveiled for fighting corruption charges.

If the New Jersey Democrat gets his way, then the indictment against him — alleging he put his congressional muscle to work for a longtime friend and benefactor in return for campaign cash and lavish pampering — will be put in limbo for years, maybe even until after he’s next up for re-election in 2018. Full story

July 21, 2015

Reputation Can Be Tough to Reverse; Just Ask Sheila Jackson Lee

Lee, second from right, came to the defense of an aide. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Lee, second from right, came to the defense of an aide. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

The latest dust-up centered on Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee has several hallmarks of her form — behaving in ways the vast majority of members of Congress intuitively know to avoid.

She got up in somebody’s business in a very public place. She sought to dominate a situation where her very presence was untoward. And she asserted her titular authority in the pursuit of special treatment at a time when such a power play seemed wholly inappropriate.

But there’s one way in which the altercation last month between Houston’s Democratic congresswoman and the Capitol Police deviated significantly from her reputation: She was coming to the defense of an aide, not castigating one. Full story

July 16, 2015

When Fear on the Right Is Trumped by Fear of Self

Ellmers is one of the few members of the House GOP Conference facing a Republican primary. But the party doesn't have much to worry about this year. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Ellmers is one of the few members of the House GOP Conference facing a Republican primary. But the party has little to worry about. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

When they’re not busy raising money off it, House Republicans tend to sound plenty whiny about their stated No. 1 fear: Being successfully challenged from the right in the next primary.

The worry turned out to be way overstated last year, and the early signs are the same will prove true next year. Full story

April 13, 2015

Four Reasons Republicans Seem Reticent in Menendez Case

(Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

(Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

It’s the first federal bribery indictment of a sitting senator in almost a quarter century, and the defendant is among the most combative and combustible Democrats in the Capitol. So why have Republicans spent the better part of the past two weeks with their hands over their mouths?

There are four plausible reasons for their relative silence about the travails of Robert Menendez. They boil down to concerns about political expedience, foreign policy, self preservation and campaign finance. 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

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 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

December 22, 2014

Languid, Lax Congressional Ethics Disciplinary System May Pick Up Pace in 2015

With a new chairmen — Isakson — in charge on the Senate side, will congressional ethics inquiries on Capitol Hill pick up the pace in 2015? (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

With a new chairman — Isakson — in charge on the Senate side, will congressional ethics inquiries on Capitol Hill pick up the pace in 2015? (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

The final flurry of activity aside, it remains undeniable that members of the outgoing Congress accomplished precious little as legislators. Less noticed, but almost as clear, is how the “do-nothing” label also may be affixed to their efforts at policing themselves.

The congressional ethics docket has been extraordinarily quiet the past two years. Given that human nature hasn’t changed, and that money’s potential to poison public service has only been permitted to expand, there’s no reason to believe lawmakers have suddenly and collectively decided to start behaving better.

Full story

August 5, 2014

Rhetoric Overload, Four Decades After Nixon

Sen. Minority Leader Mitch McConnell talks about his Russell Office that use to belong to Richard Nixon during an interview in 2005. (CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Sen. Minority Leader Mitch McConnell talks about his Russell Office that use to belong to Richard Nixon during an interview in 2005. (CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Richard M. Nixon’s fate was effectively sealed 40 years ago today. It’s a curious coincidence at the start of an August recess when the extraordinarily serious matter of presidential impeachment is going to be tossed around in such a cavalier and cynical manner.

In the current era of partisan gamesmanship and governmental gridlock, it’s understandably difficult to comprehend what a genuine constitutional crisis feels like. But there is no doubt that’s what steadily swelled toward its climax on Aug. 5, 1974.

That Monday afternoon, Nixon made public transcripts of three conversations he’d had with White House Chief of Staff H.R. Haldeman just six days after the June 1972 break-in at Democratic Party headquarters in the Watergate complex. The move ended parallel standoffs — between the president and Congress and between the president and federal prosecutors — that had festered for two weeks, even after the Supreme Court ruled 8-0 that Nixon could not claim executive privilege and had to fork over the records subpoenaed for the Watergate cover-up trial. The House Judiciary Committee had also been stiff-armed after issuing similar subpoenas on the way to approving its three articles of impeachment, with solid bipartisan support, in July.

Beyond breaking the separation-of-powers fever, the transcripts provided all the evidence necessary to bring Nixon’s presidency to a dramatically swift end. His words, preserved on what came to be known as the “smoking gun” tape, left no doubt he had personally launched a criminal conspiracy. The president had effectively ordered the cover-up of the Watergate burglary, agreeing that top CIA officials should be instructed to pressure the FBI to halt its investigation of the crime on cooked-up “national security” grounds.

Within hours, Nixon’s tenuous wall of congressional support crumbled. All 10 Republicans who had voted against impeachment in committee said they would vote on the floor for at least the article alleging obstruction of justice. (The other charges were abuse of presidential power and contempt of Congress.) Senior Republican senators were dispatched to inform the president he could not count on more than 15 votes for acquittal at a Senate trial. Nixon chose instead to resign, announcing that decision Thursday night and leaving office the morning of Friday, Aug. 9.

The anxiety of that sustained constitutional impasse — capped by a president who had proclaimed “I am not a crook” quitting after being forced to reveal he really was one — is seared in the memories of everyone on the Hill who lived through it. (The most recent reminder was the July 29 death, at age 89, of former Rep. Caldwell Butler of Virginia, who as a freshman on Judiciary conceded he broke down and wept after becoming among the first committee Republican to announce support for impeachment.)

But Watergate also was the formative national trauma for anyone who arrived in Congress from the 1970s through the 1990s, the generations who still hold sway over the national debate. For those politicians, regardless of ideology, Nixon’s forced resignation ranks with the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks and the assassination of President John F. Kennedy as the dates in their lives that most live in infamy.

The desire to prevent a repeat of the Nixon drama helped prompt Democrats, just 12 years later, to quickly quash calls for President Ronald Reagan’s impeachment, despite solid evidence he violated the law and misled Congress in the Iran-Contra affair. Similar sentiment fueled the Senate’s never-in-doubt, bipartisan 1999 acquittal of President Bill Clinton on the House GOP’s charges that he should lose his job for lying to a grand jury and otherwise trying to cover up his affair with West Wing intern Monica Lewinsky. A decade later, Democrats made clear they had no interest in spending the final years of George W. Bush’s presidency prosecuting him for launching the Iraq War under suspect pretenses.

In that context, this summer’s casual talk sounds astonishing. 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

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