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

June 21, 2013

Comey’s a Shoo-In at FBI — After He Withstands the Senate Crossfire

James B. Comey

(CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Relatively quick Senate endorsement awaits James B. Comey, who’s being formally introduced this afternoon as President Barack Obama’s choice to take over the FBI. But not before senators on both sides rehearse what they don’t like about the current state of federal law enforcement.

The top Republicans and Democrats on both the Judiciary and Intelligence committees have already signaled their support for Comey, whose selection was leaked three weeks ago in an effort to unearth any unexpected senatorial resistance. None has surfaced.

That’s a sign that, while Obama’s choices of Thomas E. Perez for Labor secretary and Gina McCarthy for EPA director remain stalled, Obama has avoided at least one potential summertime hassle in Congress by choosing a topflight nominee with a GOP pedigree. After serving as the top federal prosecutor in New York, Comey was deputy attorney general for two years of the Bush administration. Full story

June 20, 2013

‘Senator Barb’ Gives New Meaning to ‘Regular Order’

“Regular order” is a parliamentary term getting bandied around plenty these days. Mostly it’s being invoked wistfully by lawmakers convinced they’d be able to triumph over legislative stalemate and partisan discord if only Congress would play by the formal and informal rules of the good old days.

The concept is getting cited by frustrated Senate backbenchers every time there’s another balky interlude in the immigration debate. In the House, leaders in each party are blaming the farm bill’s defeat on the other side’s failure to abide by the principle.

But no single lawmaker has pledged fealty to the phrase more forcefully than Barbara A. Mikulski, who’s made “a return to regular order” her motto and her professed goal since taking the gavel of the Senate Appropriations Committee this year. Full story

A ‘Border Surge’ Breakthrough Emerges in Senate

A breakthrough moment for the Senate immigration bill is at hand, and it can be reduced to this formula: Two plus eight looks to equal at least 70.

The two are Republicans John Hoeven and Bob Corker, who are unveiling a plan to rewrite the border security provisions in the “gang of eight” measure in a way that will win over a solid bloc of new GOP votes without alienating any of the Democrats.

If everyone on the Democratic side embraces the deal, and if they’re joined by a third of the Republicans, the majority would crest at 70 on passage of the legislation, which sponsors are pushing for by the end of next week. Full story

By David Hawkings Posted at 11:49 a.m.

June 19, 2013

Does Obama Have the Votes for Another Nuclear Treaty?

(Michael Kappeler/AFP/Getty Images)

Obama waves to invited guests Wednesday in front of Berlin’s Brandenburg Gate. (Michael Kappeler/AFP/Getty Images)

President Barack Obama proposed a one-third reduction in both American and Russian nuclear arms today, but any agreement would face long odds of approval by the Senate.

The proposal was the substantive centerpiece of the president’s symbolically resonant speech at Brandenburg Gate, which once divided East and West Germany. That’s where Obama drew a rapturous crowd as a candidate five years ago, where Ronald Reagan gave his “Tear down that wall” Cold War admonition a quarter-century ago, and where John F. Kennedy declared “Ich bin ein Berliner” half a century ago.

“We may no longer live in fear of global annihilation, but so long as nuclear weapons exist, we are not truly safe,” Obama said.

It was not immediately clear, from either his text or materials released by the White House, whether the president is proposing negotiations on another Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty or a less formalized way of getting the two sides “to move beyond Cold War nuclear postures,” as he said. Full story

June 18, 2013

The Risks and Rewards of Being First to Endorse an Assumed Candidate

Congressional endorsements of presidential candidates aren’t much of what they used to be — door-openers to the sort of local organizational muscle and fat checkbooks that would scare away rivals early on or change the late dynamic of a close primary.

The televised, telemarketed and tweeted world of modern national campaigns doesn’t have much room for a regional or even statewide power broker to make a mark. And, for most senators or House members, the loss of face from embracing the loser is a much bigger worry than the all-too-often ephemeral rewards from standing in the reflected glow of a winner.

Those dynamics help explain why, by the time former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney wrapped up the topsy-turvy Republican nomination contest last April, he’d been formally endorsed by only 25 senators (slightly more than half) and just 79 House members (slightly fewer than one-third).

They also highlight just how unusually Sen. Claire McCaskill of Missouri was behaving Tuesday, when she announced she was entering the high-profile early endorsement game for the second time in as many Democratic presidential contests.

Six Januaries ago, McCaskill was the first woman in the Senate to back her colleague Barack Obama of Illinois over her other colleague Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York. This time, she’s become the first member of Congress whatsoever to endorse Clinton — who insists she won’t reveal whether she’ll be a candidate before the end of the year. Full story

Did Obama Just Show the Door to Ben Bernanke?

President Barack Obama is giving a pretty strong hint that he’ll add another top-tier confirmation debate to the Senate’s agenda for the fall. That would be someone different to become chairman of the Federal Reserve in the new year.

In his interview with Charlie Rose on PBS last night, the president hinted that he would make his nominee public this summer and that it won’t be Ben Bernanke, who’s been at the helm of the Fed since early 2006. Obama spoke of Bernanke’s service in the past tense and declined to say whether he would reappoint the chairman for a third term, even if Bernanke wanted to stay.

“I think Ben Bernanke’s done an outstanding job. Ben Bernanke’s a little bit like Bob Mueller, the head of the FBI, where he’s already stayed a lot longer than he wanted or he was supposed to,” Obama said when first asked. Full story

June 17, 2013

Is Manchin’s NRA Fight a Proxy for Would-Be Gun Control Supporters?

Monday marked two months since the Senate voted against expanding federal background checks for firearms customers. Friday marked six months since the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre pushed armed violence toward the top of this year’s legislative concerns.

Both milestones slipped by without any tangible change in a dynamic that has paralyzed Congress on the issue for more than two decades: More lawmakers fear the consequences of supporting gun control than are scared of doing nothing to control guns.

And at first blush, it seems as if one senator’s decision to spend Monday with his campaign staff and a film production crew validates all of the anxieties of the working congressional majority. Maybe, but maybe not.

Full story

High Court Hands Victory to Minority Groups

States may not demand proof of citizenship from people registering to vote, the Supreme Court ruled by a decisive 7-2 today.

The majority signaled it would also be ready to strike down any requirement tougher than what’s set out in the 1993 federal “motor voter” law, which was designed by Congress to simplify registration.

The decision, and the language behind it, is therefore a significant victory for mainstream Democrats, who want to expand access to the polls in part because they’re confident they’ll win most of the new voters. And it’s a defeat for mainstream Republicans, who express intense concern about the potential for election fraud but also know that polls show them doing poorly among groups underrepresented on the rolls — ethnic minorities, immigrants and older people. Full story

June 14, 2013

Congress Craters in Poll Question That Matters Most

Congress returns next week to face a long Senate slog on immigration, a farm bill competing for the House’s attention with going-nowhere-fast abortion restrictions and the lowest level of public confidence Gallup has ever recorded for a bedrock American institution.

The firm’s latest numbers about Congress were pretty much overlooked when they were released this week because, at first blush, the figures seemed only to echo the recent spate of abysmal congressional approval ratings.

But the new poll suggests something more worrisome about the workings of our democratic society. Whether the people are confident the legislative branch is functioning properly, an admittedly vague concept, sounds like a more reliable gauge of the institution’s long-term viability than whether they like what’s being served up at the Capitol at the moment. Full story

June 13, 2013

Farms and Food Together Forever? Don’t Bet on This Legislative Marriage

“Can this marriage be saved?” remains the central storyline as the House gets ready to vote on a farm bill next week.

The answer now looks to be a qualified “yes”: The union of crop subsidies and food stamps, created out of political convenience in the Nixon era, is on course to be preserved one final time.

But a no-fault divorce has a very good chance of being granted before the next farm bill is written near the end of the decade. After 40 years, more and more of the rural lawmakers who care most about the livelihood of farmers have decided they’re ready to dump their urban and suburban colleagues who care more about the nutrition of the poor. Full story

Harry Reid Squashes First Poison Pill on Immigration

The Democrats made a forceful move this morning to defeat the first Republican effort to cripple the immigration overhaul. Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., opened the third day of proceedings by moving to table, and thereby kill, the opening GOP bid for bolstering the bill’s border security provisions.

The amendment was designed to impose such a high threshold for border security that the “gang of eight” coalition behind the underlying bill would fracture. But Reid’s maneuver to kill it without so much as a fare thee well also threatens to upend the rickety bipartisan agreement to stay on course for a textbook friendly debate. Full story

June 12, 2013

Bloomberg-Schumer Gun Play Shows Two New York States of Mind

One of the most quoted adages in politics — the one about there being no permanent friends and no permanent enemies, just permanent interests — gained new life Wednesday. The two most influential New Yorkers in public life squared off over how to best resuscitate their shared drive for more gun control.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg asked almost 2,000 of the biggest political givers in the city to withhold all donations to the four Democratic senators who voted this spring against expanding the federal background check system.

And Charles E. Schumer — who has proudly made his home at the Senate’s three-way intersection of money, politics and policy — made it absolutely clear he viewed the mayor’s move as cockamamie, ridiculous, meshuga and just plain dumb.

The day brought into the open the tensions between the two that have been germinating for weeks. It also cast in sharp relief the very different ways they often go about achieving similar ends. Full story

An Abortion Debate Crafted for Election-Year Ears

Today’s marquee markup in the House has nothing at all to do with Republicans’ ideas for growing the economy, creating jobs, improving health care, revamping immigration or clipping environmental regulation.

Instead, it has everything to do with appeasing the base, galvanizing the rank and file and plumping up the fundraising.

The Judiciary Committee will vote, right down party lines, to advance legislation that would create a nationwide ban on almost all abortions after the 20th week of pregnancy. GOP leaders plan to make floor debate and passage the main legislative news event in the House next week, knowing full well the legislation will never come close to seeing the light of day in the Democratic Senate.

In other words, the legislative imperatives that Congress normally pursues during the year between elections are already being supplanted by the atmospherics of an election year. Six dozen weeks before the 2014 midterm elections, efforts to get to “yes” on lasting changes in public policy are already having to compete with efforts that transform the House floor into little more than a sound stage. Full story

June 11, 2013

Obama Opines on Immigration as Test Vote Nears

President Barack Obama today set aside his reticence on the immigration debate, gathering a disparate group of bill supporters around him for only his second public event to tout the overhaul.

Among the 20 people flanking him in the East Room were U.S. Chamber of Commerce President Thomas J. Donohue, AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka, Democratic Mayor Julian Castro of San Antonio and former Commerce Secretary Carlos Gutierrez, a Republican.

The pep talk came four hours before the first Senate test vote on the legislation, another sign that, at least until the amendment process gets started, the bill has enough bipartisan support to comfortably clear the 60-vote threshold for oppositional filibusters.

Full story

June 10, 2013

Being President Is No Picnic, but No Picnic Isn’t Very Presidential

Mark 3:14 p.m. Monday as the moment when President Barack Obama’s always-overhyped congressional charm offensive was officially called to a halt.

That was when the president’s legislative affairs staff dispatched a curt and totally unapologetic email informing every senator and House member that one of their two guaranteed invitations to the White House for the year had been rescinded.

The congressional picnic, an annual right of early summer for more than three decades, has been postponed indefinitely. Full story

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