Roll Call: Latest News on Capitol Hill, Congress, Politics and Elections
April 20, 2014

Posts in "The Midterm"

April 14, 2014

Can You Lie in Politics? Supreme Court Will Decide

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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

Pay Equity Bill Exposes Gender Gap Politics for Senate GOP

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Shaheen is one of the female senators the GOP would need to defeat to win control of the chamber this fall. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

Like so many legislative arguments, this week’s intensified debate about the gender gap in wages has been obscured by a fight over which side has the better statistics.

President Barack Obama and his fellow Democrats in the Senate like the Census Bureau data, which shows total earnings by women were 77 percent of what American men made in 2012. Republicans and business groups point instead to 2012 numbers from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, which suggest a narrower chasm: Women earned 86 percent of what men got.

Which formula offers the fairest measure is ultimately beside the point on both policymaking and political grounds.

No matter how many caveats and qualifiers are factored into the calculations, the result from those and all the other government and academic studies is consistent. Women are still paid measurably less than men for doing the same work. And the Republicans in Congress are steadfastly opposed to the legislative remedies they’ve been offered for closing the gap. Both truths have remained essentially unchanged for years.

What has changed is the political gender gap, steadily widening and reaching record proportions — to the seemingly obvious and dangerous detriment for the Republicans. Full story

April 1, 2014

Ryan Budget Is High-Risk, Modest-Reward Strategy in an Election Year

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(Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

An ocean of figures fill the final fiscal blueprint Paul D. Ryan will unveil as chairman of the House Budget Committee. But the number that matters most never appears: 16.

That’s the maximum number of Republicans who can turn their back on the budget resolution when it comes before the full House next week without dooming the caucus and its most nationally prominent figure to an embarrassing election year failure.

Full story

March 26, 2014

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

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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 23, 2014

Oberweis’ Illinois Senate Bid Testing Theory That Persistence Pays Off

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(CQ Roll Call File Photo)

They don’t call him the Milk Dud for nothing, but right now, he is on a little roll.

Jim Oberweis made most of his fortune in the family business, a high-end dairy delivery service and chain of ice cream parlors in Illinois. And in the space of six years in the previous decade, he poured many gallons of his riches into five failed campaigns for high-profile positions — earning not only that enduring nickname, but also the enmity of Republican operatives and officeholders from Capitol Hill to Springfield, Ill.

Now Oberweis has launched his second act in American politics by winning two straight elections. He took an open state Senate seat in the GOP outer suburbs of Chicago in 2012, and last week he claimed the nomination to try and stop Senate Majority Whip Richard J. Durbin from winning a fourth term.

But virtually no one expects Oberweis to extend his winning streak come November. At best, his allies concede, his caustic rhetorical approach and willingness to tap his own bank account could combine to make the fall campaign more expensive and uncomfortable for Durbin. (The Democrat, who counts President Barack Obama as his proudest mentoring achievement, remains favored in a year when the president’s sagging approval is the defining dynamic nationwide.)

And at worst, losing a sixth high-profile election could doom the 67-year-old Oberweis to live with the ridicule that comes with the label “perennial candidate,” no matter what he ends up accomplishing after returning to the state legislature.

Full story

March 17, 2014

Aides Aiming for Pins: Staffers Look to Join 1 in 7 Members Who Have Worked on Hill

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(Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

The newest member of the House, David Jolly, represents more than an early trophy for the Republicans and a vision of worry for the Democrats this midterm election year. For legions of Hill aides in both parties, he’s also a happy reminder that time as a staffer remains one of the best possible resume builders for those who aspire to someday wear a member’s pin.

Jolly’s opponents in Florida’s special House election never tired of affixing to him the epithet Beltway lobbyist, and that’s how he’s made a good living since 2007. But before then he spent almost a dozen years on the staff of his predecessor, the late C.W. Bill Young. He rose from legislative aide right out of college to district director and then general counsel when Young chaired the Appropriations Committee.

At his swearing in last week, Jolly became the 62nd current House member who’s held a paid position as a congressional aide. The same is also true of 14 incumbent senators. In both chambers, that’s one out of seven members.

And the roster looks likely to grow in the 114th Congress. Three somewhat competitive Senate races have candidates who once worked on the Hill, and former aides are solidly in the hunt in a dozen House contests. Thirty more with staff experience are running what appear to be hopeless federal campaigns at the moment, but some of those could still blossom. (None of these figures includes the dozens of members or 2014 candidates who have been Hill interns.)

The numbers underscore what may seem intuitively obvious in the Capitol Hill community: The sort of people who dream about becoming “the principal” will gravitate to employment with the elected officials they want to emulate. And those given an opportunity to conclude, from firsthand experience, that the congressional life’s potential benefits outweigh its manifest frustrations may be more likely to take the candidacy plunge.

Serving as an aide, in other words, is just as obvious a ticket-punching move for a budding career politician as is a judicial clerkship is for someone hoping to end up on the bench. Full story

March 5, 2014

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

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(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

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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 26, 2014

For Camp’s Tax Overhaul Plan, ‘Dead on Arrival’ May Be Beside the Point

camp 179 022614 445x296 For Camps Tax Overhaul Plan, Dead on Arrival May Be Beside the Point

(Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

What is the point of launching a trial balloon that has already been fatally shot full of holes?

That was the rhetorical question of the day Wednesday, when House Ways and Means Chairman Dave Camp ceremonially unveiled his plan for the biggest tax overhaul in three decades. The Michigan Republican did so hours after his extensively leaked idea — and the entire topic of an IRS rulebook rewrite — had been marked as a 2014 legislative dead letter by both of his party’s top congressional leaders.

There actually were strategic, selfish and political rationales for Camp to go ahead with his lonely news conference. 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 10, 2014

Where He Really Lives Aside, Sen. Pat Roberts Has Moved to His Right

StopUN 01 031313 445x295 Where He Really Lives Aside, Sen. Pat Roberts Has Moved to His Right

(Chris Maddaloni/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Sen. Pat Roberts might be in additional re-election trouble, thanks to a weekend story in The New York Times that’s generating buzz about how the Republican doesn’t have a home he can call his own in Kansas — but he does have a new case to make about his conservative credentials.

After 16 years in the Senate (and as many years before that in the House) cementing a reputation as an establishment Republican, one driven much less by ideology than by a desire for accomplishment, Roberts tacked hard to the right last year. In fact, among the six members of the Senate Republican Conference facing viable primary challenges, Roberts was unique in this regard: He opposed President Barack Obama much more often than before and also stuck with his party significantly more than he usually does.

The CQ Roll Call vote studies for 2013 found that Roberts voted against the president’s wishes 66 percent of the time, 6 points higher than the Senate GOP average. During Obama’s first term, the senator’s presidential opposition averaged 55 percent.

At the same time, Roberts toed the party line on 99 percent of the votes in which most Republicans voted the opposite way from most Democrats. That nearly perfect measure of loyalty was 13 points higher than the average Senate GOP party unity mark; it also was 8 points higher than Roberts’ average for the first four years of his current term.

Full story

February 9, 2014

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

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( 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

February 4, 2014

Vote Studies Show Double-Sided Numbers for Senate’s ‘Red State Four’

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Pryor voted against Obama more often than any other Senate Democrat last year. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

During the 2008 presidential campaign, Barack Obama cited a single number again and again in warning that John McCain was not the sort of change agent the country needed: His Senate colleague and presidential opponent had voted with President George W. Bush 95 percent of the time.

The figure was plucked from the database of CQ Roll Call vote studies, a treasure trove for opposition researchers since the annual assessment of congressional voting patterns began in the early 1950s. And the number — accurate only for the previous year, when McCain tacked right in his pursuit of the Republican nomination — was seen as plenty effective in puncturing the Arizona senator’s reputation as a centrist maverick.

The selective marshaling of statistics is a necessary skill for politicians as much as it is for policymakers. And the work has been gearing up in recent weeks, as the landscape for the midterm elections becomes more clearly defined and the first congressional primaries (in Texas) loom in only a month.

A plurality of the attention is already focused, and looks destined to remain, on the quartet of Democratic senators running for re-election in states that Mitt Romney carried in 2012, because how well they fare will go a long way toward determining if Senate control switches to the GOP next year. And so plenty of scrutiny is being given to the glass-half-full, or glass-half-empty, nature of what our 2013 vote studies reveal about how loyal they’re being to both Obama and their party line. Full story

January 13, 2014

Will Miller’s Exit Leave Pelosi Too Lonely at the Top?

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Is the retirement of Miller, center, a sign that Pelosi, left, is considering leaving Congress soon as well? (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

The long list of George Miller’s prominent official titles being unfurled is a reminder of why he is easily the most important member of the current Congress who has announced a retirement.

But his informal position — at the very center of  Nancy Pelosi’s inner circle — makes Monday’s news of his planned departure especially consequential.

Miller has been her uniquely influential patron, confidant, consigliere, travel buddy and liberal soul mate during the past three decades. More than any other lawmaker, he made and has maintained his fellow Californian’s hold on power in the House Democratic Caucus. Full story

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