Roll Call: Latest News on Capitol Hill, Congress, Politics and Elections
April 1, 2015

January 15, 2015

Democrat Has Trick Up His Sleeve to Battle Irrelevance

The debut of Pocan Magic Mondays. (Screenshot)

The debut of Pocan Magic Mondays. (Screenshot)

“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

Ryan’s Rationale for Bypassing 2016

House Chamber

Ryan, left, has a word with House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy on Jan. 6, before the 114th Congress was sworn in on the House floor. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

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

Centrist Democrats on McConnell’s List of Potential Collaborators

McCaskill could end up being one of the Centrist 7 McConnell turns to when he needs Democratic help. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

McCaskill, front, could end up being one of the “centrist seven” McConnell turns to if and when he needs some Democratic help. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

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

Democratic Committee Assignments Less Than a Zero-Sum Game

Pelosi is in a tough spot when it comes to making committee assignments for the 114th Congress. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

Pelosi is making committee assignments for the 114th Congress. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

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

Voting Rights: One Way the GOP Might Reverse What Scalise Scandal Made Worse

Could Scalise shepherd a rewrite of the Voting Rights Act? (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Could Scalise shepherd a rewrite of the Voting Rights Act? (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

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.

Full story

January 6, 2015

Quirky Ceremonies, Curious Characters Mark Hill’s ‘First Day of School’

He's ready for his close-up. Biden's time to shine is in the Old Senate Chamber. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

He’s ready for his close-up. Biden’s time to shine is in the Old Senate Chamber. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

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

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

December 11, 2014

Congress’ Closing Chaos, as Viewed in the Senate Subway

The Senate subways give a true sense of the vibe on Capitol Hill as the lame-duck session ends. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

The Senate subways can offer a true sense of the vibe on Capitol Hill as the lame-duck session comes to an end. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

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

December 9, 2014

What the Landrieu Adieu Says About the 2015 Senate

Cassidy's victory over Landrieu in Louisiana shifts the power dynamic in the Senate and the South. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

Cassidy’s victory over Landrieu shifts the power dynamic in both the Senate and the South. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

Now that Louisiana’s voters have added their crushing coda to this year’s Republican sweep, many of the ways in which next year’s Senate will be different have locked in place.

The most obvious change has been known since election night: The GOP will be in charge for the first time in eight years. But now we know Republicans will occupy 54 seats starting in January, strength in numbers they’ve exceeded in only six years of the previous three decades.

Beyond that, the defeat of Democrat Mary L. Landrieu — she took just 44 percent and lost her bid for a fourth term representing Louisiana by 151,000 votes in a runoff against GOP Rep. Bill Cassidy — will further shift senatorial demographics and political dynamics on several fronts.

Full story

December 8, 2014

Truce in ‘Nuclear’ Filibuster War May Be Senate GOP’s Best Option (Video)

McConnell, seen here during Sen. Ted Cruz's filibuster ahead of the 2013 government shutdown, has a decision to make about the nuclear option. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

McConnell, seen here during Sen. Ted Cruz’s 2013 filibuster before the government shutdown, has a decision to make on the nuclear option. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Beyond the sort of brinkmanship that always grabs public attention in the waning hours of the legislative year, one story out of Congress is going to fascinate the insiders and may infuriate the institutionalists.

Senate Republicans will meet Tuesday to debate what to do about the filibuster after they take over the place in four weeks. Will they make good on a threat to double-down on the “nuclear option” exercised by the Democrats, which would mean neutralizing the filibuster as a tool for stopping legislation in addition to nominations? Will they do the opposite and declare themselves totally magnanimous, proposing to return the rules to the way they were so the Democrats might begin leveraging the historic power of the minority? Or will they go to neither extreme and acquiesce in the new normal?

Full story

December 4, 2014

Obama’s Push for Political Ambassadors Reaching Lame-Duck Limit

Baucus is the ambassador to China. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Baucus is the ambassador to China. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Perhaps the last important contribution Max Baucus made to the culture of the Senate, where he spent 35 years, was to offer a blunt truth before becoming the American envoy in Beijing.

“I’m no real expert on China,” the Montana Democrat confessed during the January hearing on his nomination to be ambassador to the nation with the most people and the biggest economy in the world. But six days later, his colleagues voted, 96-0, to confirm him anyway.

The candor of that episode offered a glimpse into a debate that’s been underway for a century, and which brewed in the background all year before bubbling into public view this week. What should be the limit on a president’s ability to use ambassadorships as rewards for his political allies?

Full story

December 3, 2014

Paul Plots Paths to 2 Elections as Portman Takes Simpler Route

Paul has some big decisions to make about running for president and re-election in Kentucky. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Paul has some big decisions to make about running for president and re-election in Kentucky. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Yawner: Two first-term Republican senators announced Tuesday they’re seeking re-election in 2016.

Surprise: One said that means he won’t be running for president, while the other signaled he’s plotting how to circumvent the law to seek the White House and the Senate simultaneously.

The twin declarations reveal several things. The next presidential race really is already underway. The winnowing of an unusually enormous potential GOP field has begun and will soon accelerate, after some additional self-reflection. And the party has been presented early on with a potentially powerful fusion ticket.

Full story

December 2, 2014

Lessons for Lovers of Long-Shelved Budget Reconciliation

Democrats like then-Rep. Charles A. Gonzalez protested Republicans using reconciliation in 2005. (CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Democrats, including then-Rep. Charles A. Gonzalez, protested the Republicans using reconciliation in 2005. (CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Maybe if it was called “the gridlock slayer” instead of “budget reconciliation,” more people in the Capitol’s orbit would be getting excited about the revival of a form of legislative magic that hasn’t been practiced in almost five years.

One of the biggest congressional stories of 2015 is going to be how the Republicans, in total control for the first time in eight years, conjure many of their boldest and fondest policymaking desires into a single legislative punch and then whisk the huge behemoth past Democratic senators stripped of their normal filibuster powers. The only potential mystery is whether they’ll end up watching helplessly as the entire conservative fireball gets vaporized with a few swooshes of President Barack Obama’s pen.

That’s because the sorcery of reconciliation, while very powerful, has an even more forceful antidote: the veto.

For those who’ve arrived on the Hill since the last midterms — after swearing-in day on Jan. 6, that will include at least 44 senators and about 48 percent of the House — a very short course in the recently moribund budget process may be helpful as a starting point. Full story

December 1, 2014

The Opaque World of Committee Assignments

How did Young, a freshman, end up with a committee assignment? (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

How did Young, a freshman-to-be, end up with a committee assignment on Appropriations? (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

One of the older truisms routinely applied to politicians is, “Where you stand is where you sit.” In other words, their ideology flows clearly from their life experience. And on Capitol Hill, there is this corollary: “Where you sit is what you do.”

That neatly summarizes the importance of committee assignments in the lives of so many lawmakers. And it helps explain why two dozen favored members of the next Congress got to breathe big sighs of relief before Thanksgiving, while all the others are returning for the rest of the lame-duck session to confront complex battles for the remaining placements.

The jockeying and suspense will be especially acute in the House. Its 435 seats make specialization something close to a job requirement, so committee membership takes on outsize importance in driving each member’s legislative priorities and perceived areas of expertise — and in many cases fundraising focus as well. That helps explain why campaigning for a good assignment is an essential focus during every newly elected member’s two-month transition to office, and why the party leaders act as the gatekeepers of membership.

It’s a very different situation in the Senate. Because of statewide constituencies, each senator has a vested interest in becoming familiar with several different areas of public policy. With almost 400 committee seats but only 100 people to fill them, each senator is guaranteed a spot on at least one of the most powerful panels. And because of the seniority system’s continued sway over the institution, the veterans generally get the pick of the litter and the newcomers are left to choose from the best of the rest.

All that, plus the uncertainty of the runoff in Louisiana, means returning senators won’t know for sure about openings on the so-called A committees until the second week in December, with freshmen left waiting to start assessing targets of opportunity.

In the House, the biggest winners have already been announced. Nine Republicans first elected in 2010 and nine from the Class of 2012 (including a pair of subsequent special-election winners) have been tapped for the committees with the most powerful legislative jurisdictions, which therefore provide their membership with the most robust flows of campaign cash. That’s Appropriations, Energy and Commerce, Financial Services and Ways and Means. Another three seats on the banking panel and two on the spending panel were awarded to incoming freshmen. Full story

November 19, 2014

Election Trivia for Political Wonks, Part 2

Two of these senators make our election trivia fodder by being re-elected in 2014 by smaller-than-expected margins despite being in safe seats. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Two of these senators make our election trivia for being re-elected in 2014 by smaller-than-expected margins, despite being in safe seats. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Maybe the lovers of congressional curiosities still haven’t mined the 2014 election results for all the political and institutional trivia pushed toward the surface.

An initial potpourri was offered Tuesday in this space — fun and sometimes consequential facts that go beyond the historic statistics that put context behind Republicans’ midterm sweep. That, of course, is the GOP’s current net gain of 11 House seats assures them their largest majority since the Truman administration, and their potential pickup of nine Senate seats would be the biggest boost for either party since 1980.

A special election held on Nov. 4 means Congress now has its 100th voting female member for the first time, in North Carolina Democrat Alma Adams, and the midterms assured more diversity in the coming year. Debbie Dingell of Michigan has become the first person elected to the House as successor to a living spouse, for example, and the arrival of Baptist pastors Jody Hice of Georgia and Mark Walker of North Carolina (both Republicans) will expand to six the roster of Protestant ministers in the House.

(You can learn more about the members-elect in our Guide to the New Congress.)

Here is another collection of trivia questions and answers designed to provide insight into the meaning, consequences and oddities of the 2014 cycle. See Part I here.

Full story

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