Roll Call: Latest News on Capitol Hill, Congress, Politics and Elections
November 1, 2014

October 31, 2014

D.C. Elections: What to Watch

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Muriel Bowser supporters rally in support of the candidate for DC mayor. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

An upside-down flag on the District of Columbia’s official voter guide set election season off to a rocky start, but the Board of Elections is promising a successful result on Nov. 4.

At the top of the ticket is the race for the District of Columbia’s non-voting delegate in Congress. Democratic Rep. Eleanor Holmes Norton, has represented the District for more than 20 years and faces a challenge from a long-shot candidate, local tour guide and historian Tim Krepp.

But all eyes will be on the mayor’s race, with Ward 4 Councilmember Muriel Bowser poised to win. A recent WAMU/Washington City Paper poll showed Bowser, a Democrat, with a solid lead over her independent opponents. Bowser also picked up high-profile endorsements from President Barack Obama and Democratic National Committee Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Fla.

Councilmember David Catania is mounting the most serious challenge, but he trailed Bowser by double digits in the recent poll. The other independent candidate, former Councilmember Carol Schwartz, could spoil Catania’s challenge by pulling votes away from him. Schwartz garnered support from 10 percent of the survey’s respondents, while 16 percent of voters surveyed were undecided.

As mayor, the candidate who wins next week will be a key player in Congress’ tenuous relationship with the District. Each candidate has a different approach for working with Capitol Hill, especially when it comes to obtaining full voting rights for Washingtonians.

Bowser has said she will expand the District’s lobbying presence on Capitol Hill and will raise the issue of statehood with the White House, though her prominent endorsements raised questions about whether she would actually press national Democrats on statehood.

Catania, on the other hand, said at a DC Vote forum that Congress is too gridlocked to grant D.C. statehood, so he would pursue a constitutional amendment via state legislatures. Catania would also set up a political action committee aimed at members who intrude in D.C. affairs. Schwartz said she would personally meet with congressional leaders and utilize her personal contacts on the Hill to advocate for D.C voting rights.

Also on the ballot — for the first time in D.C. history — is the attorney general. Five candidates are vying to become the District’s lawyer, which voters chose to make an elected position in 2010.

One of the AG candidates, Democratic attorney Paul Zukerberg, helped challenge the council’s attempt to delay the election in court. Zukerberg faces four other Democrats, including Karl Racine, a partner at Venable in D.C. and associate White House Counsel for President Bill Clinton, who was endorsed by The Washington Post and Clinton.

Former Obama official Edward “Smitty” Smith is hoping his government experience will give him an edge over the other candidates, who also include public policy attorney and community activist Lateefah Williams and attorney and longtime voting rights advocate Lorie Masters.

District residents will also cast a historic vote on drug policy. As pro-marijuana advocates had hoped, the elections board voted unanimously in August to put legalization on the ballot. According to an NBC4/Washington Post/Marist DC poll, the city is poised to vote “Yes on 71,” the initiative that would allow adults over the age of 21 to possess up to two ounces of marijuana, and cultivate up to six plants at home.

In anticipation of the vote, the D.C. Council has already begun exploring how to tax and regulate legalized marijuana. The ballot initiative covers only personal use, not retail sales. Proponents are urging officials to send the measure to Congress without delay, where it may face opposition. If medical marijuana and decriminalization are any guide, Republicans might try to block implementation with budget riders.

Capitol Hill residents will also elect a new councilmember. Democrat Charles Allen, former chief of staff to outgoing Councilmember Tommy Wells — who lost a primary bid to be mayor — is poised to become the next Ward 6 representative.

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D.C. Council Talks Marijuana Legalization, ‘Rookie Cookies’

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October 30, 2014

Former Senate Sergeant-at-Arms Mooted as Next Secret Service Director

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Gainer, center, shakes hands with the president after the annual Friends of Ireland Luncheon in March. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Is the Capitol’s former top cop the best pick to replace former Secret Service Director Julia Pierson? The world’s largest organization of sworn law enforcement officers thinks so.

On Thursday, Fraternal Order of Police National President Chuck Canterbury sent a letter to Department of Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson asking him to tap Terrance W. Gainer for the job. Citing Gainer’s 47 years in public service, Canterbury says the former Senate sergeant-at-arms and Capitol Police chief is one of the few people who can achieve the changes needed in the wake of Pierson’s Oct. 1 resignation.

“The rank-and-file officers know that Terry will do right by them, the agency and the mission,” Canterbury states. “Most importantly for the USSS at this time is confidence that a new Director can make the necessary changes and make them stick. Among those changes, perhaps one of the most critical is the minimization of tensions between the uniformed officers and the agent personnel which are a glaring component of current problems.” Full story

D.C. Council Talks Marijuana Legalization, ‘Rookie Cookies’


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Harris has already vowed to fight legalization. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Votes on pot legalization have yet to be tallied, but the D.C. Council is already talking about “Rookie Cookies.”

Five days before Washingtonians head to the polls, the council’s Committee on Business, Consumer and Regulatory Affairs and Committee on Finance and Revenue held a joint public hearing to explore how the District of Columbia would tax and regulate its marijuana industry. Officials have indicated they intend to send the ballot initiative to legalize marijuana to Congress without delay for its mandatory 60-day review period, and they fully expect it to take effect next April.

“Rookie Cookies,” and other marijuana edibles are one of the products they will need to learn to regulate, according to Cathy Jolley, who came from Nashville to talk about her experience working with state and national players on behalf of Marijuana Enforcement Tracking Reporting and Compliance. She said a strong regulatory model has been “key” to keeping the federal government out of Colorado’s marijuana market. Full story

No Changes at Capitol Following Jeh Johnson’s Security Upgrade

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(Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

The recent order to beef up security at federal buildings does not appear to have resulted in any changes for the men and women guarding Congress. On Wednesday, a day after Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson ordered enhanced protection against the threat of terrorism for government buildings in Washington and across the country, it was business as usual on Capitol Hill.

Capitol Police stood guard around campus, patrol cars circled the perimeter and typical screening procedures stayed in place.

When asked about Capitol Police response, spokeswoman Lt. Kimberly Schneider told CQ Roll Call that the department “remains at a post-9/11 heightened level of awareness [and] continues to monitor and track global events.”

One cop on a mountain bike playfully kicked the seat of another officer’s bike as they wheeled around the Peace Circle at noon. Around 1 p.m. inside the Dirksen Senate Office Building, police patted down a man outfitted wearing a white turban and robe who declined to remove garments for the metal detectors.

Down the hall from the first floor entrance, staffers were learning how to respond to an active shooter incident. The Senate sergeant-at-arms developed the hour-long training in coordination with the Capitol Police in 2011. It is one of the highest-attended courses the SAA offers.

The attacks on Canadian Parliament last week prompted no significant changes to security around the grounds, Capitol Police said at the time. Johnson cited that violence and other world events in his announcement of new directions for the Federal Protective Service.

Members of Congress with jurisdiction over day-to-day operations, including Senate Rules and Administration Chairman Charles E. Schumer, did not indicate they were aware of any changes in protocol.

House Administration Chairman Candice S. Miller, R-Mich., is kept up-to-date on the status of security of our Capitol facilities, a spokesperson for the committee responded, when asked if there had been any briefings related to the DHS announcement.


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‘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.


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

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