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

July 7, 2013

There’s Less to This Congress Than Meets the Blind Eye

Lawmakers and aides pouring back into the Capitol this week may be tempted to glance at their desk calendars, smack their foreheads and exclaim, “Where did the time go?”

And then, with even more bewilderment, they might wonder, “What have we been doing all year?”

The July Fourth recess is traditionally considered halftime in the legislative year. In fact, it’s a bit later than that. The Senate’s had roll call votes during 17 weeks so far in 2013 and plans only 16 more weeks in session before the second Friday in December. The House has had votes in 18 weeks but expects just 14 more workweeks before that same Dec. 13 target adjournment.

The message for the laborers in the First Session of the 113th Congress is unmistakable: The time is slipping away without much to show for it. Full story

July 2, 2013

Bill Gray, First Black in the Congressional Leadership, Dead at 71

(Scott J. Ferrell/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

A portrait of Gray, right, hangs in the cloakroom behind the Budget Committee meeting room. (Scott J. Ferrell/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

William H. Gray III, who as House majority whip from 1989 to 1991 was the first African-American ever in the top tier of congressional leadership, died on Monday.

He was 71 and was in London with one of his children to attend the Wimbledon tennis tournament.

A third-generation Baptist minister, Gray unseated a veteran incumbent and fellow Democrat in 1978 to become central Philadelphia’s congressman. He held the seat with ease while advancing in power and prestige until his surprise resignation in the summer of 1991, when he left to take over the United Negro College Fund. During his 13 years in that job, after which he started his own lobbying shop, the fund raised $2.3 billion in scholarship money. Full story

July 1, 2013

How Student Loan Impasse Went From Bad to ‘So What?’

Next Wednesday has already been established as a critical date in the House, because it’s when Republicans will meet to decide their next move in the immigration debate. But July 10 also looms as a big day in the Senate, because that’s when a pair of roll calls will decide whether the student loan impasse will be broken before it becomes a potentially expensive hassle for millions.

It’s much more difficult than usual to predict the ultimate outcome, given the unusual legislative dynamics behind the standoff.

The normally united caucus of Democratic senators has split over what to do next, while the Republicans are sounding much more interested than most Democrats in pursuing something similar to what President Barack Obama wants. And the House, which has spent all year deferring to the Senate because of all the division within the GOP majority, has taken the lead in the matter by passing a plan to revamp the whole system, doing so with almost unanimous Republican support.

It’s also tougher than usual to forecast when the issue will be resolved, given that Congress has just ignored the statutory deadline with almost no outward care about the consequences. Full story

June 28, 2013

Tea Party Freshman Puts D.C. Speed Cameras in the Cross Hairs

House Republicans have shown their interest in micromanaging the municipal affairs of Washington, D.C., time and again. The range of their interests may soon get stretched again.

For the past two decades, these crusades have been all about making the nation’s capital a sort of social policy Petri dish in which to experiment on such hot-button issues as charter schools, gun control, abortion rights, medical marijuana and needle exchanges for drug addicts.

Now, the shifting interests of the House GOP’s tea party generation are about to land on a new target: The city’s speed cameras. Full story

June 27, 2013

Senate to House: Immigration Is in Your Court (of Public Opinion)

So, the Senate immigration bill didn’t hit the 70-vote threshold that was going to magically melt all House Republican resistance to opening the narrow new path to citizenship even before the border is totally locked-down tight. The solemn roll call came up two senators short.

So what?

For essentially the entire three weeks that immigration overhaul was on the Senate floor, Speaker John A. Boehner, R-Ohio, made clear he couldn’t care less how big the bipartisan coalition grew on the other side of the Capitol. He wasn’t falling into the expectations trap set by some members of the Senate’s bipartisan “gang of eight.”

In fact, he wasn’t even going to buy the notion he had to announce right away how the House would respond to Senate passage of one of the most consequential domestic policy measures in the last quarter-century. On the contrary, he has always insisted, he hasn’t even really started trying to figure that out.

That’s what the coming July Fourth recess is for. Full story

70 Votes for Immigration Seems a Stretch, and May Be Moot

The Senate is on course to finish its immigration bill this afternoon, with the penultimate pair of procedural test votes to be taken before lunch and the roll call on passage set to start at 4 p.m.

When that final vote begins, Majority Leader Harry Reid announced this morning, he expects all senators to be in the chamber and ready to vote from their desks.

Arranging that unusual and somber ceremony serves a couple of strategic purposes for proponents of the legislation. Full story

By David Hawkings Posted at 11:13 a.m.
Immigration

June 26, 2013

Gingrich’s 17-Year Culture War Against Gay Marriage Falls Flat

It’s a remarkable coincidence that Newt Gingrich’s latest career move was announced Wednesday morning, moments before the Supreme Court struck down his most consequential legislative victory in the culture wars.

The pictures of Gingrich, just given top billing as the voice “on the right” of CNN’s revived shoutfest “Crossfire,” brought back a flood of recollections about the societal and political situation 17 years ago, when the star-crossed Defense of Marriage Act was written.

Those memories help explain why such a sweeping measure made its way into the federal law books so relatively easily back then and why such a heavy federal stamp of disapproval on an entire category of people has no chance of enactment now. Full story

Gingrich, a DOMA Architect, Returning to D.C. as Talking Head

The Defense of Marriage Act was the biggest legislative victory for social conservatives that Newt Gingrich was able to engineer as speaker of the House. This morning, an hour before that law was struck down as unconstitutional by the Supreme Court, the peripatetic Georgia Republican and failed presidential candidate announced he was leaving traditional politics altogether.

He’s going to become a full time television talking head.

CNN announced that it was resurrecting “Crossfire,” the progenitor of so many cable TV shows formatted to turn into screaming matches, and that Gingrich would anchor the “on the right” half of the table every weeknight starting this fall, along with S.E. Cupp, a conservative columnist who’s currently a regular on MSNBC. Full story

June 25, 2013

Both Parties Play Rope-a-Dope on Obama’s Climate Agenda

There’s nothing congressional Republicans can do to stop President Barack Obama’s assertive new moves against carbon pollution. There’s nothing the Democrats can do to help him. And both sides have concluded that trying could make their own political fortunes worse.

Which is why four years ago to the day is going to stand, until at least the end of the decade, as the legislative climax in the climate change debate. Full story

June 24, 2013

When Is ‘Recess’ Not Vacation and When Does ‘Pro Forma’ Mean Work?

Of course, the fate of the Voting Rights Act is vitally important to the lawmakers who survive or sweat because of racial bloc politics. And the future of the Defense of Marriage Act is of keen interest to the lawmakers who see their main causes in the trenches of the culture wars.

Their suspense is about to come to an end, with rulings about the constitutionality of both laws due as soon as Tuesday morning and for sure within a week.

However, for every member of Congress, the year’s biggest Supreme Court announcement came Monday. The justices agreed to consider the “recess” argument between the Senate and President Barack Obama. It’s an admittedly arcane dispute over the president’s ability to make appointments to Cabinet offices, regulatory agencies and the courts while Congress is not in session. But it could be the most consequential balance-of-powers case to come before the court since the line-item veto was struck down 15 years ago.

The outcome — oral arguments will happen this fall and a decision would be expected within a year — could redefine legislative and executive branch prerogatives for decades.

Full story

June 23, 2013

House GOP Must Do the Math to Avoid the Red Faces

A four-day weekend for the House is affording GOP leaders extra time to go over the long list of lessons they were retaught by the farm bill’s catatonic collapse.

Perhaps the most obvious and the most important among them: If you’ve got the votes, then vote. If you don’t, bide your time. But be sure you can count well enough to know the difference.

Forgetting this one lesson next time, on the immigration bill, will almost surely prove fatal to the most sweeping domestic policy overhaul of this decade. It will very likely lead to the dismissal of all three men at the helm of the majority caucus. And it could well poison the Republican Party for years in the eyes of the nation’s fastest-expanding demographic group.

For GOP leadership, the importance of separating their external challenges from their own shortcomings — and focusing on what’s within their power to fix — cannot be overstated before an immigration debate is scheduled. Full story

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.
Immigration

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

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