Roll Call: Latest News on Capitol Hill, Congress, Politics and Elections
July 31, 2014

July 30, 2014

The Calm Before the Pre-Recess Storm

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Rose, left, and McConnell went to spread the word about the “War on Coal.” (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

As House and Senate leadership scrambled to reach agreements on legislation to address the Veterans Affairs backlog, reauthorizing transportation programs and the influx of Central Americans at the Southern border before they adjourned for recess, Barbara Halpern-Levin, wife of Sen. Carl Levin, paused calmly in the middle of the Capitol Crypt.

The Michigan Democrat’s wife was giving a tour of the Capitol to a relative visiting from Florida, and she provided a serene contrast to Wednesday’s back-door buzz. In a brief interview with CQ Roll Call, the senator’s wife said she would need to check her schedule before deciding whether to take the visiting relative to watch either chambers’ final votes.

Lawmakers noted the relatively calm atmosphere around the Hill, even as the House prepared to debate a resolution authorizing the chamber to sue President Barack Obama. Full story

D.C. Officials Plotting New Course to Keep Gun Control Intact (Updated)

Updated 7:30 p.m. | Though they won’t yet say how far they are willing to take their fight, District of Columbia officials plan to do everything in their power to limit the carrying of handguns in the nation’s capital, arguing that despite a court’s ruling that paves the way for more permissive laws, Washington is a unique place with heightened security concerns.

“An absolute ban on [carrying handguns] may not pass constitutional muster regardless of the judge, so we’re going to prepare by working on legislation that will pass muster” said Tommy Wells, a Democrat who represents Capitol Hill on the D.C. Council.

As chairman of the Council’s Committee on the Judiciary and Public Safety, Wells will play a key role in D.C.’s response to the July 26 ruling by Judge Frederick Scullin Jr. that declared the complete ban on carrying handguns in public unconstitutional. The court granted a stay of the ruling Tuesday, giving District officials 90 days to figure out how they will protect public safety while complying with the Constitution. Full story

July 29, 2014

Maryland Delegation Muscling for FBI Headquarters

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Maryland delegation wants FBI headquarters, “but we’re not going to be bullies here,” Mikulski said. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

A District of Columbia site didn’t make the shortlist for the FBI’s new headquarters released Tuesday by the General Services Administration. But to the thrill of Maryland’s congressional delegation, possible locations included the Greenbelt Metro Station and Landover Mall, both located in Prince George’s County.

The GSA Franconia Warehouse Complex in Fairfax County, Va., is the third finalist.

Flexing a bicep in her pink jacket, Senate Appropriations Chairwoman Barbara A. Mikulski declared a victory equivalent to “winning the primary,” during an afternoon press conference and said the state could host the “muscular” headquarters the agency needs. Full story

Judge Stays D.C. Handgun Ruling for 90 Days (Updated)

Updated 7:02 p.m. | A federal judge on Tuesday put a hold on the ruling that overturned the District’s ban on carrying handguns in public, effectively giving D.C. police and law enforcement some space to figure out how to respond.

The July 26 ruling by U.S. District Judge Frederick J. Scullin Jr. declaring the gun law unconstitutional threw Metropolitan Police Department and legal officials into rapid, confusing response. D.C. police were ordered on Sunday not to arrest people for carrying registered pistols and deadly weapons in public — a directive that effectively put them in the position of recognizing all other jurisdiction’s handgun permits.

MPD Chief Cathy L. Lanier and District officials requested the stay on Monday evening, saying it would allow them to pursue an appeal and enact a “licensing mechanism” consistent with the ruling and the Second Amendment. Full story

Protest Raises Questions About Contract Workers of Legislative Branch

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Norton and Ellison rally with federal contractors who work at Union Station, the National Zoo and other D.C. sites. (Hannah Hess/CQ Roll Call)

Labor issues came to Capitol Hill Tuesday, as federal contractors protested wages at Union Station and members of Congress used the opportunity to discuss workers’ rights among contractors and employees in the legislative branch.

About 100 federal contractors who work minimum wage jobs at Union Station, Ronald Reagan National Airport, the National Zoo and the Pentagon marched through Columbus Circle on Tuesday morning waving picket signs and flags.

Halting the flow of taxis and tour buses at Union Station, they protested the White House’s executive order to increase hourly pay on new government contracts to $10.10 as “not enough” and demanded the right to unionize.

“These courageous workers have gone on strike nine times,” said Rev. Michael Livingston, national policy director and head of the Washington, D.C., office for Interfaith Worker Justice. The people waving white and blue flags behind his lectern were predominantly women, many dressed like Rosie the Riveter in red bandanas and starched blue shirts and holding the hands of toddlers who marched alongside their working moms. Full story

July 28, 2014

In D.C., Response to Judge’s Handgun Ruling Is Mixed and Muddled (Updated)

Updated 6:01 p.m. | For all practical purposes, a federal judge’s weekend ruling that overturned local laws prohibiting District of Columbia residents from carrying guns outside of their homes has opened the door for non-residents to tote handguns into the city and has made it potentially easier for members and staffers to transport firearms across the District to the Capitol.

D.C. police have been ordered not to arrest people for carrying pistols and deadly weapons in public. Washingtonians can still face criminal charges for carrying unregistered firearms and ammunition, but the millions of people who visit the nation’s capital are exempt from those provisions under an order from Metropolitan Police Chief Cathy L. Lanier. The chief’s guidance effectively put the District’s firearm regulations, at least for non-residents, on a par with the most permissive gun jurisdictions in the country. D.C. police got additional guidance from Lanier on Monday afternoon. She clarified that the ruling applies only to handguns, not long guns or shotguns that are still illegal, and that committing crimes with handguns remains illegal.

For non-residents, legal possession of a handgun in D.C. is based on the laws of their home jurisdiction, meaning D.C. police will be responsible for knowing and enforcing licensing and permitting restrictions from around the country. Lanier noted that additional information on gun laws in other states will be forthcoming and said that in the meantime, officers can call a 24-hour information line.

Lanier’s orders came in response to Judge Frederick Scullin Jr.’s July 26 ruling in Palmer v. District of Columbia that D.C.’s complete ban on the carrying of handguns in public is unconstitutional. In the 19-page decision, Scullin wrote that he was stopping enforcement of the law “unless and until” the city adopted a constitutionally valid licensing mechanism.

In her follow-up guidance to officers, Lanier nodded to the confusion. “Unfortunately, this ruling has left many unanswered legal questions that are currently being reviewed by the [Office of the Attorney General],” she stated.

Federal laws and a portion of D.C. code still prohibit people from carrying weapons on Capitol grounds, according to Capitol Police spokeswoman Lt. Kimberly Schneider. But members and staffers already have weapons privileges for the Capitol campus dating back decades.  Full story

Charges in Campus Handgun Cases Could Change in Wake of D.C. Handgun Ruling

Charges against two men whom Capitol Police allegedly stopped from bringing 9 mm handguns to Capitol Hill could change, as attorneys scramble to interpret the effect of a federal judge overturning the District’s handgun ban.

On July 26, Judge Frederick Scullin Jr. ruled in Palmer v. District of Columbia that D.C.’s complete ban on the carrying of handguns in public is unconstitutional. In the 19-page decision, Scullin wrote that he was stopping enforcement of the law “unless and until” the city adopted a constitutionally valid licensing mechanism.

D.C. police were subsequently instructed not to enforce the law against carrying pistols in public. In two separate incidents that are raising questions about campus security, Hill staffer Ryan Shucard and pork executive Ronald William Prestage were charged with violating that law when police uncovered handguns and magazines during administrative searches at the Cannon House Office building. Full story

July 25, 2014

Former House Staffer Pleads Guilty to Theft

A former House staffer, Brian Prokes, pleaded guilty Friday to theft of government property while serving as an office manager, Assistant Attorney General Leslie R. Caldwell announced in a press release.

According to Legistorm, Prokes, 28, worked for Rep. Gus Bilirakis, R-Fla., at the time of the theft and previously worked as a scheduler for then-Gov. Charlie Crist. Full story

House Natural Resources Republicans Slam Ike Memorial Commission

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Gehry, David and Anne Eisenhower, and Rocco Siciliano talk after a press conference about the memorial back in March 2010. (CQ Roll Call File Photo)

The federal government has poured more than $65 million into creating a memorial to Dwight D. Eisenhower, according to a new congressional report that alleges mismanagement by the Eisenhower Memorial Commission and slams architect Frank Gehry’s plan.

Republicans on the House Natural Resources Committee, which previously backed a bill to sunset the EMC, on Friday released a report declaring the proposed memorial a “Five-Star Folly,” and detailing the many delays and unanticipated costs in the 15 years since President Bill Clinton signed off on its creation.

The 58-page document, based on an investigation launched by the committee in 2012, states that more than $16.4 million has been spent on the memorial design, and another $13.3 million on design contract management, including expenses such as parking and broadband internet for the executive architect, Daniel Feil. Additionally, citing data from the General Services Administration, the report claims almost every contract the EMC has entered into for work on the memorial has been modified multiple times, reflecting millions of dollars in additional costs. Full story

Members of Congress Acknowledge Major Security Gap at House Garages

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(Hannah Hess/CQ Roll Call)

Over the course of four workdays, Capitol Police spotted two 9 mm handguns during the security searches that are standard protocol for visitors and staffers entering congressional office buildings. Meanwhile, the Capitol community paid tribute to two Capitol Police officers killed in a gun battle in the Capitol 16 years earlier.

Nothing indicates the two men arrested for entering the Cannon House Office Building were intent on doing harm, but the timing of the grim anniversary of the deaths of Detective John Gibson and Officer Jacob J. Chestnut on July 24, 1998, framed some of the concerns of members and staffers with a massive security loophole in the House garages.

On July 18 and 23, the security protocol at the Cannon doors worked. But, if someone with access to the House parking garages carried a gun, as staffer Ryan Shucard allegedly did, members believe he or she could enter office buildings without a bag check or metal detector screening. Full story

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