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

August 19, 2014

Norton Questions Mostly White Ferguson Government

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Norton criticized racial disparities in Ferguson. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

D.C. Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton is characterizing the nearly all-white elected leadership and police force in majority-black Ferguson, Mo., as “poison.”

“Here you have mostly white police force in a mostly black community, but I’m really perplexed about why most of the elected officials are white as well,” Norton, a Democrat, said Tuesday during an interview with MSNBC’s Jose Diaz-Balart. “Is there something about the way elections are done in Missouri or in the county?”

Though members of Congress have raised the alarm about mounting violence and militarized police in the St. Louis suburb, Norton, a Yale-educated civil rights lawyer, may be among the first to raise the issue of racial disparity among Ferguson’s elected leadership.
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Planes Flying Over D.C. for Aerospace Defense Tests

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(CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Look skyward Tuesday and you might see some low-flying military aircraft over the District of Columbia.

But don’t panic: The planes are likely part of a practice run.

The North American Aerospace Defense Command will be practicing intercept and identification procedures over the region between 10 a.m. and 11:30 a.m. More exercises will take place Tuesday night into Wednesday morning.

The flights are scheduled to take place in or around the District, Virginia and Maryland. People in those areas may hear and or see low-flying NORAD-controlled helicopters flying near military or military contracted aircraft.

NORAD has tested its systems throughout the U.S. and Canada on a rotating basis since the start of Operation Noble Eagle, the command’s response to the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. The organization tests responses to a variety of scenarios including airspace restriction violations and hijackings. Tuesday’s test flights mark the first time NORAD has tested in the National Capital Region this year, according to authorities.

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August 18, 2014

In Wake of Recent Arrests, Security Tightens at House Garages

garage081814 440x292 In Wake of Recent Arrests, Security Tightens at House Garages

(CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Law enforcement officials on Capitol Hill are making it harder for people without congressional identification badges to avoid security checks in the wake of recent arrests for carrying handguns.

On Monday morning, Capitol Police began enforcing a new ID check policy at the House garages. When a car pulls up, officers check for the requisite parking stickers and ask every passenger to show credentials. Any passenger over the age of 18 who is without a congressional ID is required to exit the vehicle prior to its entry into the garage.

House Sergeant-at-Arms Paul D. Irving announced the change late on Aug. 15 in a memo to members of Congress and staff that was obtained by CQ Roll Call. According to the notice, passengers without ID will be directed to a pedestrian entrance. At those doors, they would be required to empty their pockets and submit to a search involving X-ray machines and magnetometers.

The change is an effort to “tighten security” at the House garages, according to a high-ranking security official who spoke on background about the changes. It comes after two incidents that have cast campus security in a new light.

During a search one month ago, Capitol Police found a 9 mm handgun in the bag of Ryan Shucard, press secretary for Rep. Tom Marino, R-Pa. Police arrested Shucard, stopping him from bringing the weapon into the Cannon House Office building.

Five days later, Capitol Police arrested South Carolina pork executive Ronald Prestage at another Cannon door after finding a loaded 9 mm handgun inside an ankle holster in his briefcase.

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Folger Shakespeare Library Staff Mourns Death of Cataloger

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Co-workers pay tribute to Seiler, 36, who was killed in a traffic crash last week. (Hannah Hess/CQ Roll Call)

Next to the guest log at the Folger Shakespeare Library on Monday sat a manilla folder containing a sympathy card for the family of an employee killed on Aug. 15 in a tragic traffic crash.

Nadia Sophie Seiler, a 36-year-old Wheaton, Md., resident who worked as a rare materials cataloger at the library just east of the Capitol, died at a local hospital from injuries sustained when her gray Honda scooter collided with a flatbed truck on Connecticut Avenue Northwest. The crash took place at approximately 8:24 a.m. on Aug. 15, as Seiler was on her way to a Society of American Archivists convention at a nearby hotel.

In the basement break room where employees meet each morning to share coffee and small talk, supervisor Erin Blake shared her memories of Seiler. The woman worked as a cataloger at the library — home to the world’s largest collection of Shakespeare material — reading Renaissance-era handwritten manuscripts for close to seven years.

“Nadia was fascinated by the puzzle of deciphering it, and she picked it up really quickly,” Blake said. She “would find interesting bits of letters and receipt books to read out loud to us. We’d hear her snicker at her desk then people would come over and say, ‘What is it? What did you find?’”

Co-workers draped Seiler’s desk in a blanket and set up a framed photo collage, showing her posing among cherry blossoms and flashing a big smile. Seiler sports floppy white ears as part of a “dust bunny” costume in one photo, snapped during a staff Halloween party. In another, Seiler and her fiancé clutch ice cream cones. Blake said the couple had just picked up a marriage license for the wedding they had planned for Aug. 30.

Seiler had a great eye for the rare findings that would fascinate scholars, Blake said. For instance, she loved sharing ancient recipes uncovered in culinary and medicinal texts. In a post on the library’s blog, Seiler gave readers a window into 17th century breast cancer treatments involving unusual ingredients.

“As unappealing as woodlouse beer and goose dung or pig fat ointments might seem to a modern audience, these were not uncommon ingredients and provided women of the period with an alternative to surgery, which was an aggressive and painful form of treatment,” Seiler wrote.

Blake said Seiler was a “natural cataloger,” with a background in art history and English. She was a graduate of Carleton College in Minnesota, and held a master’s degree in archives and records management from the University of Michigan, according to online records.

“It’s a small organization here and we’re all very close,” Blake said, explaining the morning coffee ritual that brought all the employees together in the break room. “It really is like family.”

On Monday, they planned a slide show tribute to Seiler. The library has not yet released a formal statement on her death, out of respect for her family. Plans for a memorial and funeral service have not been announced.

Detectives from the Metropolitan Police Department are still investigating the accident.

August 15, 2014

Break Room Fire Causes Evacuation at Capitol Power Plant

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(Chris Maddaloni/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

The Capitol Power Plant was briefly evacuated Friday afternoon, as firefighters responded to a small fire in the break room.

Around 3:45 p.m., Capitol Police sent out an alert to notify the campus community that the complex on E Street Southeast was being evacuated due to signs of smoke. Fortunately, it was not an industrial blaze, but a small fire in an area with paper products, according to department spokeswoman Lt. Kimberly Schneider. Full story

By Hannah Hess Posted at 5:05 p.m.
AOC, Capitol Police

August 14, 2014

Capitol Hill Gets First Openly Transgender Staffer of 113th Congress

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New hire pushes gay-rights agenda on the Hill. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Capitol Hill is getting its sole transgender staff member, the Gay & Lesbian Victory Institute announced Thursday.

Connecticut native Ben Panico, who last year interned in the office of Rep. Dan Kildee, D-Mich., through the institute, has been appointed as a fellow for the Congressional LGBT Equality Caucus. He will spend a year helping the caucus, founded in 2008, pursue an ambitious gay-rights agenda in a Congress with a record number of openly gay lawmakers. He is the first openly transgender person to hold the position.

“I first started my work at Victory as a Congressional Intern and have now risen through Victory’s programing to a Congressional Fellow,” Panico said in a statement released by the organization, which has brought more than 20 college leaders to the District since launching its internship program in 2011. The fellowship program launched in 2013.

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By Hannah Hess Posted at 1:44 p.m.
Campus, Staffers

Statehood Push: Take Over D.C. Prisons, Save Money

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D.C. statehood activists wonder how the District would handle its criminal justice system if it becomes the 51st state. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Coming up with a practical plan for management of the Washington, D.C.’s courts and prisons could be a great way to sell GOP deficit hawks on making it the 51st state, advocates pitching statehood for D.C. believe.

They’ll have their chance at an upcoming Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee hearing.

Pro-statehood activist Josh Burch says they don’t yet have the answer to a “$600 million question” about how the District would take back control and payment for its criminal justice system, presently paid for by all American taxpayers and run by the federal government.

“I think it’s a really legitimate question,” Burch told CQ Roll Call.

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August 13, 2014

Hill Staffers Learn to Save Lives to the Tune of ‘Stayin’ Alive’

traverso 342x330 Hill Staffers Learn to Save Lives to the Tune of Stayin Alive

Traverso, left, led Capitol Hill staffers through a brief, “hands-only” CPR training. (Hannah Hess/CQ Roll Call)

Striking a falsetto register, Steve Traverso belted out the chorus of The Bee Gees’ “Stayin’ Alive” on Wednesday morning in a tiny first-floor Rayburn reception room.

“Push to the beat,” Traverso instructed the 30 or so Capitol Hill staffers crouched over inflatable dummies on the ornate red carpeting. They pumped their palms into the plastic torsos, listening for the slight “click” that would indicate they were pushing hard enough to save a life.

Traverso, the community CPR manager at the American Heart Association, gave the staffers a 15-minute “hands-only” lesson on what to do when faced with a cardiac emergency. By the end of the brief session, sponsored by AHA and Anthem, Traverso aimed to make the staffers feel confident to perform the life-saving technique without any hesitation. Full story

By Hannah Hess Posted at 5:36 p.m.
Campus, Staffers

Capitol Hill Gun Case Delayed in Wake of D.C. Ruling

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Attorneys for Prestage are negotiating with government officials in his Capitol Hill gun case. (Hannah Hess/CQ Roll Call)

For the second time in less than a week, federal prosecutors and defense lawyers have agreed to delay a case involving a man carrying a gun to Capitol Hill.

Ronald Prestage — the South Carolina pork executive arrested by Capitol Police when they found a loaded semi-automatic pistol and magazine in his briefcase — was expected to appear in D.C. Superior Court on Wednesday. But the 11 a.m. hearing was not held.

Court documents state the government and defense are continuing negotiations, suggesting a plea deal might be possible. A federal ruling on D.C.’s gun policy may impact charges in the case.

On July 23, Capitol Police spotted a handgun in Prestage’s briefcase during an administrative search at the Rotunda door of the Cannon House Office Building. Police say the weapon, concealed in a black ankle holster, appeared to be “fully functional” and “capable of being fired by a single hand.” According to charging documents, Prestage told police at the time of the arrest that he had a permit to carry a concealed weapon in South Carolina. He does not have a permit to carry in D.C.

Prestage, president-elect of the National Pork Producers Council, has been charged with a single count of possessing a gun outside a home or office, a felony that carries up to five years in prison.

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August 12, 2014

Democrats Target Health Care Used by Congress

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Barrow wants to eliminate federal health benefits for members. (CQ Roll Call File Photo)

The latest challenge to Office of Personnel Management rules on congressional health benefits comes from President Barack Obama’s own party.

Democratic Reps. Dan Maffei of New York, John Barrow of Georgia and Ron Barber of Arizona, are targeting the employer contributions members of Congress receive for coverage in the D.C. health care exchange. Unlike the contentious amendment offered by Louisiana GOP Sen. David Vitter, their bill would not eliminate contributions for staffers.

Barrow, who voted in 2010 against the creation of the health care law, said staff aren’t responsible for the “perverse incentives in Obamacare” that prompted some employers to kick people off their coverage. “I don’t feel a similar compulsion to set an example at their expense,” he told CQ Roll Call. His full staff was designated as having to enter the exchange.

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