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January 29, 2015
Yet another measurement of the current congressional polarization, and yet another reminder that nothing happens on the Hill without suspicion of political motive, arrived Wednesday on the op-ed page of the Akron Beacon Journal.
January 28, 2015
You have to read to the 128th page of the 131-page rulebook governing the public’s movements and behavior on Capitol Hill. But there it is in Section 16.2.90, tucked between admonitions against flying a kite or taking a nap in the shadow of the Dome.
“The use of model rockets, remote or manually controlled model gliders, model airplanes or unmanned aircrafts, model boats and model cars is prohibited on Capitol grounds.”
January 27, 2015
The first voting is almost a full year away, and already the presidential campaign is upsetting the regular rhythms of Congress.
Members with national ambitions regularly complicate their colleagues’ lives by deciding their current jobs must take a back seat to their nascent campaigns. But that process is starting especially early this time: Florida’s Marco Rubio is denying Senate Republicans some potentially pivotal votes on the energy bill so he can spend this week fundraising in California, and Kentucky’s Rand Paul skipped this month’s retreat — where the GOP was hoping to come up with a unified Senate and House agenda for the year.
For the entire congressional community, however, there’s a more significant — and unprecedented — disruption in the works.
January 25, 2015
This is one of the most pivotal weeks in Harry Reid’s personal life, not to mention his congressional career.
How he handles Monday’s complex surgery to rebuild a crushed orbital socket and remove pools of blood behind and in front of his right eyeball will not only determine whether the Nevadan regains the vision he lost earlier this month in a freakish exercising mishap. His recovery’s pace and comprehensiveness also will help decide how long he remains the top Senate Democrat and his ability to seek re-election next year. Full story
January 22, 2015
On the topic of authorizing the use of military force against the Islamic State, the state of play between Congress and President Barack Obama is reminiscent of some famous cartoon humor from a century ago.
The premise of “Alphonse and Gaston,” a comic strip that ran in the old New York Journal for a decade starting in 1901, was that the title characters were essentially paralyzed by their devotion to an extreme and unnecessary form of deferential politeness. Neither would ever do anything or travel anywhere because each insisted that the other precede him. Full story
January 21, 2015
Hours before he took the podium, whatever President Barack Obama said Tuesday night was getting eclipsed on the Hill by all the excited chatter about the next person likely to speak before a joint meeting of Congress.
Expectations are growing that Pope Francis will be ascending the House rostrum this fall, becoming the first pontiff ever to visit the Capitol and the most important voice of worldwide moral authority to address lawmakers in person since Nelson Mandela two decades ago. Full story
January 20, 2015
This year there are more defensible rationales than ever for members of Congress to miss the State of the Union address. But there doesn’t seem to be any groundswell of absenteeism in the works.
The seventh year is only exceeded by the eighth as the nadir of any president’s influence — especially when, as with Barack Obama and all four previous two-term presidents, his party controls neither half of Congress. Full story
January 15, 2015
“We got magic to do, just for you, we got foibles and fables to portray as we go along our way.”
Lyrics from the opening song of the musical “Pippin” are as good a place as any to begin the story of a backbench junior Democrat with one of the more novel approaches to making his mark in the House. Full story
January 13, 2015
The dead giveaway, if it wasn’t a total head fake, was when Paul D. Ryan showed up to begin his ninth term in the House sporting a blossoming beard.
No one so hirsute has been elected president, or even run a sustained national campaign, since Benjamin Harrison back in 1888 — so obviously the facial hair was the clearest sign yet the Wisconsin Republican was taking a pass on 2016. Unless he was signaling the opposite: That he was getting ready to emulate James A. Garfield, another in the string of bearded 19th century presidents and the only sitting House member ever sent to the White House. Full story
It’s safe now to forget about the “red state four,” the quartet of Democrats whose defeats in conservative-leaning states last year assured the Senate GOP takeover. And the inevitable creation of the next “gang of six” (or eight, or 12, or whatever) is at least one legislative impasse in the future.
For now, the grouping of senators deserving the most attention is the “centrist seven,” the cluster of Democrats who stand out as the likeliest to get behind aspects of the new Republican majority’s legislative program. And they may be joined once in a while by as many as five others in their party who’ve shown flashes of moderation in the recent past, yielding a universe of potential aisle-crossers who could be dubbed the “dispositive dozen” of the 114th Congress. Full story
January 12, 2015
The House Democrats undeniably remain the fourth and smallest wheel in the congressional machine. And they’re still struggling to apply enough internal political grease to get their pieces of the legislative engine out of neutral.
The party now has its smallest share of House seats in almost nine decades — just 188, or 43 percent. In reality, its disadvantage is even more pronounced. That’s because Republicans have stuck with the custom that the party in control claims more than its fair share of the seats on committees, where the bulk of the chamber’s policy battles are effectively won or lost. Full story
January 7, 2015
With the House once again preoccupied by Speaker John A. Boehner’s future, the snowy hoopla of opening day looks to have been the final event that sealed Steve Scalise’s fate: He is going to survive as majority whip for the indefinite future.
Now the question becomes what alternate moves, if any, the Louisianan and his GOP colleagues make in hopes of improving their lousy standing with African-Americans.
January 6, 2015
If freshman week back in November was the Hill’s equivalent of college orientation, then the formal convening of each Congress is the Capitol’s analogue to the first day of school.
And so it may be useful, for the congressional community as well as the throngs of well-wishers in town just for the festivities, to be reminded of some of the curious ways in which the customs of this day are different from all the others. Full story
December 22, 2014
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.
December 11, 2014
For a sense of what this climactic week for the 113th Congress feels like, a well-timed visit to the Capitol’s main subway platform will do the trick.
On a quiet day, the station tucked beneath the Senate’s ceremonial steps is about as antiseptic as it gets, the dull white walls and fluorescent lighting more reminiscent of a mid-century hospital than one of the true “corridors of power” in the most powerful government on Earth. Full story