Roll Call: Latest News on Capitol Hill, Congress, Politics and Elections
October 30, 2014

October 30, 2014

‘Smitty’ Vying to Become D.C. Attorney General

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Smith is one of five DC attorney general candidates. (Courtesy Smith Campaign Flickr account)

Through the drizzling rain on a gray October morning, blue signs emblazoned with “Smitty” are visible in the windows of a three-story red brick building in Shaw. In a small office upstairs, campaign staffers are working to make sure the signs’ namesake becomes D.C.’s first elected attorney general.

Edward “Smitty” Smith, a Democrat and D.C. native, is hoping his government experience and Washington roots will resonate with voters and set him apart from the four other Democrats vying for the position.

“I’m the only person in this race who’s managed government attorneys,” Smith told CQ Roll Call in a recent interview at his campaign headquarters. “This is a government office; it’s not a law firm.”

The posters bearing his nickname can be spotted all over the city. He’s been called “Smitty” his entire life — his Aunt Barbara came up with the nickname when he was born. Smith said he was called “Smitty” so often, he did not learn his real name until he was 3 years old.

Before entering the AG race, Smith held a number of positions in the Obama administration, including chief of staff and prosecutor at the Federal Communications Commission, program director at the National Telecommunications and Information Administration and adviser at the Department of Commerce. Smith’s first job with the Obama administration was as deputy general counsel for the 2009 Presidential Inaugural Committee.

Full story

October 29, 2014

Broun’s Payouts to Communications Consultant Under Review

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Broun is being investigated for allegedly hiring a debate coach and media consultant with official funds. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Georgia Rep. Paul Broun is being investigated for paying GOP communications consultant Brett O’Donnell more than $43,000 in taxpayer dollars, according to a report released about two months before the congressman leaves office.

From February 2013, when the Republican launched his bid for retiring Sen. Saxby Chambliss’ seat, to March 2014, Broun’s office paid $2,500 per month to the man known in political circles as a tea party “whisperer.” Emails obtained by the Office of Congressional Ethics, which referred the case to the House Ethics Committee on July 31, characterized the former debate coach for George W. Bush and Mitt Romney as part of the Broun campaign’s “core team.”

O’Donnell also appeared to be the lead negotiator in formatting campaign debates, and offered tips on driving winning points home. In one instance, O’Donnell requested a conference room at the National Republican Congressional Committee to help Broun prepare for a debate in his 2012 House campaign. Full story

Capitol Christmas Tree Lighting Announced

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(Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

The Minnesota White Spruce to be decorated for holiday festivities on the West Front of the Capitol was cut down Wednesday and is en route to Washington, where it will be lit by Speaker John A. Boehner on Dec. 2.

According to a statement from the Architect of the Capitol, the tree will be decorated by by thousands of handcrafted ornaments from Minnesotan children in the North Star State. “It’s a major point of pride for Minnesota that this year’s Capitol Christmas Tree comes from the Chippewa National Forest,” Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., said in the AOC release. “This massive spruce is a shining example of the extraordinary natural beauty our state has to offer, and I’m excited to see it light up our nation’s capital this holiday season for the entire country to see.”

The tree will be lit every night from Dec. 2 until Jan. 1 from nightfall until 11 p.m., a tradition going back to 1964.

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Flight 93 Memorial Fire Damage Tallied

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Three Congressional Gold Medals, including one for Flight 93, were awarded during a Sept. 10 ceremony in the Capitol Visitor Center. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

The National Park Service has completed its inventory of items lost in the Pennsylvania fire that destroyed the flag flown above the Capitol on Sept. 11, 2001.

Personal mementos from the 33 passengers and seven crew members killed when United Airlines Flight 93 crashed near Shanksville, Pa., plus hundreds of original photos on loan from victims’ family members, were among the items lost in the Oct. 3 fire. A boarding pass and a parking receipt from Newark International Airport, plus various identification cards, were also destroyed.

While the blaze ravaged three buildings at the headquarters of a memorial being built on the crash site, the Congressional Gold Medal posthumously awarded to the victims remains intact for permanent display at the Flight 93 National Memorial Visitor Center scheduled to be dedicated in September 2015. Full story

October 28, 2014

D.C. Council Clears Road for Uber

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Traditional taxis have railed against the measure for months, including a rolling protest around Capitol Hill. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Taxi drivers lost a fight against for-hire ride services Tuesday, when the D.C. Council passed a bill that Uber says “provides a permanent home for UberX in the District.”

The company, which in August hired President Barack Obama’s former political strategist David Plouffe to run its political and public relations operations, praised D.C. for passing the legislation. It mandates county, federal and multi-state background checks on drivers going back seven years, $1 million primary insurance coverage from the moment a driver accepts a request and annual vehicle safety inspections by a certified mechanic. Uber said in a blog post that the bill makes D.C. a “trailblazer in the transportation industry.”

Hundreds of local taxi drivers, organized by Teamsters Local 922, planned a rolling protest around Freedom Plaza to show their opposition to the measure. They say it fails to create a level playing field with the private sedan services, who are costing the cab drivers business. A similar honking armada surrounded Capitol Hill in June.

The bill underwent some big changes as it worked its way through the council, including a name change. Lawmakers said calling the services “ridesharing” conflates them with carpooling, and other modes of transportation meant to defray costs associated with vehicle ownership or commuting. Instead of that term of art, the District opted for “private vehicle-for-hire” services.

Under the legislation, Uber, Lyft and other companies would have to comply with fare transparency provisions, like traditional taxis. The company must disclose its calculation method and applicable rates being charged, as well as offering to estimate fare. Additionally, the bill protects passengers’ pocketbooks in situations like Snowmageddon. When the mayor declares a state of emergency, the drivers are prohibited from setting exorbitant fares.

RELATED:

Uber Hires Former Obama Strategist Plouffe To Run Its PR Efforts (Video)

Airports Become Battleground for Taxi And Shuttle Operators’ Struggle Against Uber

D.C. Taxi Revolt Disrupts Capitol Hill Traffic

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Grant Gerber, Nevada Activist, Dies From Fall Sustained on Horseback Ride to Capitol Hill

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Participants in the Grass March Cowboy Express visited Capitol Hill. (Hannah Hess/CQ Roll Call)

A horseback protest that trotted through Washington on Oct. 16 turned out to be one of the final rides of Nevada conservative activist Grant Gerber’s life.

The Elko County Commissioner, hailed by friends as a “freedom fighter,” died nine days after visiting Capitol Hill with the Grass March Cowboy Express to voice frustrations over Bureau of Land Management grazing policies. Gerber was 72.

Twelve days into the cross-country journey, Gerber sustained a severe concussion when the horse he was riding took a tumble in Kansas. He was examined and released from a St. Louis, Mo., hospital with no sign of bleeding. Gerber felt he was healing as the caravan continued on its quest. An ominous email written before the ride began explained his determination. Full story

DC Council Looks to Streamline Statehood Efforts

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Mendelson and Gray both support new statehood efforts. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

In the four decades since Home Rule, elected officials in the District of Columbia have created four different commissions aimed at making the city the 51st state. Looking at the current condition of those panels, it might be obvious why the flag only has 50 stars.

Each one has no members, according to D.C. Council Chairman Phil Mendelson. None one of the four have been functioning for years, “if ever,” he said Monday at a briefing previewing the council’s Tuesday legislative agenda.

Included on that agenda is a complicated piece of legislation designed to streamline more than 200 mayor-appointed boards and commissions in D.C. would consolidate and bolster the statehood effort. Introduced in January 2013 as the “Boards and Commissions Reform Act,” the council recently revamped the bill by adding “New Columbia Statehood Initiative” to the title and injecting more than a quarter-of-a-million dollars into the fight.

The bill, expected to get a final vote Tuesday, would eliminate 31 panels deemed inactive or unnecessary, including the Statehood Commission, the Statehood Compact Commission, District of Columbia Statehood Delegation Fund Commission, and the 51st State Commission. It would establish two new independent agencies: the Office of Statehood Delegation, and the New Columbia Statehood Commission. Full story

October 27, 2014

Alyce Dixon, Feisty World War II Vet, Gets Private Sit-Down in Oval Office

President Barack Obama welcomes one of the spunkiest centenarians in the District of Columbia to the Oval Office for a private Monday afternoon meeting.

World War II veteran Alyce Dixon, who turned 107 on Sept. 11, will sit down with Obama and Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton, D-D.C. According to the congresswoman’s office, veterans and D.C. statehood are on the agenda, but Dixon is sure to crack a few jokes. The quick-witted Washingtonian is widely known for her sense of humor, on display in a 2012 profile by the Army and .

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=w4-DUpMGcHg

Dixon was born in Boston in 1907, the third-oldest of nine children. Her family moved to Washington in 1924, and Dixon briefly attended Howard University. In her 20s, she worked at the Lincoln Theatre on U Street Northwest, serving as a secretary then a cashier. From 1940 to 1943, she worked as one of the first civilian employees at the Pentagon.

Dixon joined the Army in 1943, among the first African-American women in the nation to enlist. She served in England, France and Scotland. Her unit was tasked with eliminating floor-to-ceiling stacks of undelivered mail and packages addressed to U.S. servicemembers but stored in foreign warehouses. They cleared the mail backlog in record time, and Dixon was awarded a medal for good conduct, according to the D.C. Mayor’s Office of Veterans Affairs.

After her service, Dixon returned to the Pentagon. She retired after 35 years with the federal government, and continued to volunteer around the city. Her humor is a hit with staff at the V.A. medical center in Northwest Washington.

“She has the unique ability to bring joy to others, and is known especially for her bubbly personality and comedic storytelling,” Norton said in a 2011 House floor speech commemorating Dixon’s birthday.

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October 24, 2014

Ebola Roundtable Sparks Divisions Over District’s Preparedness

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A protester outside of the White House encourages a travel ban from Ebola-affected countries. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Though national attention turned to a congressional hearing on Ebola preparedness Friday, two members of D.C. Council Committee on Health also met to assess how the District is preparing for the virus, resulting in clashes between lawmakers, hospital officials and nurses.

“We are nowhere near prepared for an Ebola patient at our hospital,” said Jowita Lyn, an emergency room nurse at Providence Hospital in Northeast D.C.

Referring to breaches in protocol that led to two nurses contracting Ebola while treating an infected patient in Dallas, Texas, Lyn said, “What happened at Texas Health Presbyterian could easily happen at Providence Hospital.”

Lyn treated one of the suspected Ebola patients in D.C. at Providence. She said she knew to ask whether the patient had traveled to an affected country because of her own research on the subject.

The nurse said the only training she received was a printout of Centers for Disease Control guidelines. Lyn also said the protective gear at the hospital were “paper thin gowns that are barely thicker than a napkin.” Full story

CREW Awarded $86K After Court Fight for Don Young Documents

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CREW filed suit for information on corruption probe of Young. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Refusing to release information on the “Coconut Road Corruption Investigation” that targeted Rep. Don Young will cost the Department of Justice more than $86,000, a U.S. District Court judge for the District of Columbia has ruled.

The order stems from a long-running corruption probe into House’s longest-serving Republican, who has earned a reputation for his brash behavior on Capitol Hill and back home in Alaska. In 2008, Congress directed DOJ to examine Young’s role in steering $10 million into a Florida transportation project. It concluded in 2010 with no charges against Young, but Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington wanted more details on what DOJ uncovered. Full story

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