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October 24, 2014

Posts in "Members of Congress"

October 22, 2014

These Members of Congress Report Having No Assets

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Moran was one of just two members of Congress not to report any assets or liabilities. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

In a Congress packed with millionaires and near-millionaires, six lawmakers stand out on the other end of the spectrum — they didn’t report a single asset on their financial disclosure forms.

The lack of a reported investment asset alone doesn’t mean these lawmakers are penniless, and none of them have enough debt to land on Roll Call’s list of the 10 ‘Poorest’ Members of Congress.  (Visit our interactive to see the full ranking, which includes representatives, senators and delegates. Because there are three vacancies in Congress, there are 538 members on the list.)

Several common types of assets do not have to be reported: checking accounts that don’t bear interest, home equity and personal possessions such as cars and furnishings.

That said, the six lawmakers — and two others who only reported pensions of undetermined value — are an eclectic bunch from across the political spectrum.

Full story

October 21, 2014

Hastert Recalls Sept. 11, 2001 Evacuation of the Capitol

pl02090610 440x288 Hastert Recalls Sept. 11, 2001 Evacuation of the Capitol

Hastert, right, said he acted unilaterally to cancel the joint session of Congress on 9/11. (Ken Lambert/Associated Press)

The smoke he saw drifting across the National Mall on Sept. 11, 2001, while sitting behind his desk at the Capitol left a lasting impression on former Speaker J. Dennis Hastert.

“I couldn’t look at that window the next five years without thinking about those people who really made a difference — the real heroes,” the Illinois Republican told an audience of students Monday during a panel discussion at The Washington Center. He credited the passengers who thwarted a terrorist hijacking of Flight 93 with saving Congress from a plane he suspects was headed right for his office window.

Hastert recalled what it was like to be one of the only members in the building that Tuesday morning, and making a the call to cancel the joint session of Congress scheduled to take place later in the day with Australia’s prime minister.

Full story

October 16, 2014

Harvard Welcomes New Members With 4-Day Orientation

It isn’t easy for new members of Congress to sit down and talk openly with lawmakers from the other side of the aisle — cameras are ever-present, reporters are never far away and there isn’t exactly a lot of love between the two major parties.

Enter the Harvard Institute of Politics. The Boston-based institute holds a conference every two years to give new members a chance to get to know each other away from the media glare on Capitol Hill, before they officially take office.

“When you get a … bipartisan group of members in a room without the spotlight of the world on them and they’re just sitting around talking to each other, it’s amazing to hear the conversations you hear Republicans having with Democrats,” said Christian Flynn, the Harvard IOP director of Conferences and Special Projects.

In 1972, when the conference started, there were just four members who attended. This year there are four organizations — the Brookings Institution, the American Enterprise Institute, the Center for Strategic and International Studies and the Congressional Institute — are partnering with Harvard to orientate the members.

In 1972, those four members stayed at Harvard for a whole month. These days, the most you can expect is the four days.

“Can you imagine ever having a new member of Congress go anywhere for a month, let alone come to Harvard?” Flynn asked.

New members get a crash course in contemporary issues and what they may need to worry about in the future. The conference sessions are led by academics, policy analysts, practitioners and current and former members of Congress, according to a press release. Topics covered include the federal budget, the global economy, terrorism and navigating the legislative process.

How to survive the “hustle and bustle” of Washington is covered, too. It’s a college orientation on steroids for the nation’s freshman lawmakers.

“Some of it ends up being, ‘Oh, I need a roommate, do you need a roommate?’” Flynn said.

Family members can attend, Flynn said, but there’s a rule on plus ones: “No staffers allowed.”

The Harvard Institute of Politics was founded in 1966 as a memorial to President John F. Kennedy. The institute is paid for by a Harvard endowment — the partners don’t contribute cash — and all new members, including recent special-election winners, are invited. The program takes place from Dec. 2 through Dec. 5, and kicks of with a dinner.

Correction 5:53 p.m.

An earlier version of this post misstated how many organizations are partnering with Harvard for the orientation. This post has also been updated to reflect the uncertainty of how many members will attend.

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October 15, 2014

Obamacare Lawsuit Challenges Congress’ ‘Small Business’ Status

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DC Health Link enrollment under attack. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

The conservative group Judicial Watch filed a lawsuit Wednesday alleging that members of Congress and congressional staffers who enrolled in health care via the D.C. small business exchange did so illegally.

At a press conference at the National Press Club Wednesday, Judicial Watch claimed the House and Senate should not have been classified as small businesses in the health care exchange. The group said the classification violated D.C. law, which characterizes small businesses as those with fewer than 50 employees.

Judicial Watch President Tom Fitton pointed to documents obtained through Freedom of Information Act requests, showing House and Senate applications to the D.C. Exchange Authority categorized the institutions as small businesses with 45 employees.

“The documents we obtained from D.C. Health Exchange show that every member of Congress who has enrolled in Obamacare has obtained their insurance coverage — and any taxpayer subsidies — through fraud,” Fitton said Wednesday.

When asked for a comment on the lawsuit’s charges, a spokesperson for the D.C. Health Benefit Exchange Authority said, “We cannot comment on pending litigation.” Full story

October 14, 2014

‘Special Treatment’ for Congress Inspires Another Obamacare Lawsuit

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DC Health Link enrollment is under attack. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

This time it’s not a lawmaker, but an outside conservative group that plans to file suit over alleged “special treatment” for members of Congress enrolled in gold-level coverage plans through DC Health Link.

Judicial Watch, the group that continues to dog the Department of Health and Human Services for more transparency about implementation of the 2010 health care law, will share details Wednesday of a “taxpayer lawsuit challenging the District of Columbia’s special treatment of Congress concerning Obamacare.”

The announcement is planned at an event at the National Press Club, where plaintiff Kirby Vining and Judicial Watch President Tom Fitton plan to join attorneys. Details are sparse. Congress accounts for more than a quarter of the 50,520 people enrolled in the D.C. health exchange, and the subsidy members and staff receive to cover premiums has been taking heat from all sides.

DC Health Link offered private sessions to staffers in advance of the Dec. 9 open enrollment deadline, plus on-site help sessions at the Capitol with employees from Aetna and Blue Cross Blue Shield. Several staffers who worked in district offices in other parts of the country complained about the enrollment process, and those working in Washington offices experienced technical glitches.

This is not the first suit Judicial Watch has filed related to the exchanges. In March, they filed two lawsuits against HHS to obtain records, one of which related to security and privacy concerns surrounding the Healthcare.gov web portal.

On August 8, they filed a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit seeking emails and documents involving communications to and from former HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius and Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services Administrator Marilyn Tavenner. Judicial Watch wants to know what was said about enrollment figures, performance and security testing of the site, decisions about when to make certain information publicly available, plus other FOIA requests.

Jill Sutherland Farrell, director of Judicial Watch, declined to provide further information on the plaintiff or the nature of the lawsuit in a phone call with CQ Roll Call.

The liberal watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington has criticized the special support sessions at the Capitol and help hotlines offered to members and staff. They challenged that insurance companies provided perks in violation of congressional ethics rules.

Members of both parties on Capitol Hill have targeted the employer contributions members of Congress receive for coverage in the D.C. health care exchange. Democratic Reps. Dan Maffei of New York, John Barrow of Georgia and Ron Barber of Arizona, want to eliminate government contributions towards their premiums through the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program. Louisiana GOP Sen. David Vitter has also continued to offer his amendment targeting contributions for staffers.

RELATED STORIES:

Democrats Target Health Care Used by Congress

Health Insurance for Congress and Staff: It’s Complicated

Capitol Hill Feels Pains of Obamacare Sign-Up Troubles

Vitter Amendment Won’t Go Away Quietly

As Open Enrollment Deadline Approaches, Insurers Scramble to Give Staffers Support

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October 9, 2014

Norton to GOP: Support Democracy for D.C., Not Just Hong Kong

norton 05 040110 440x292 Norton to GOP: Support Democracy for D.C., Not Just Hong Kong

(CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton, D-D.C., is urging Republican senators who called on President Barack Obama to support the democracy movement in Hong Kong to also support democracy in D.C.

A bipartisan group of senators, including 10 Republicans and 11 Democrats, sent a letter to the president Thursday, urging Obama to “voice U.S. support for full democracy in Hong Kong.” The group included senators from both ends of the political spectrum who united to write, “[We] strongly support the Hong Kong people’s aspiration for universal suffrage and full democracy.”

In a statement issued later in the day, Norton applauded the show of support for those in Hong Kong fighting for democracy. However, she noted that all of the Republicans who signed the letter and were in the Senate in 2009 voted that year against granting D.C. voting rights on the House floor.

“I hope the Republican signatories recognize their inconsistency in supporting democracy abroad while actively opposing it in their own nation’s capital,” Norton said.

Norton is the District’s only official representative in Congress and she cannot vote on the House floor.

The D.C. statehood movement did reach a milestone in the Senate this year, with the first hearing on the subject in two decades. However, as Norton acknowledged after the hearing, achieving D.C. statehood in the gridlocked 113th Congress is very unlikely.

Correction:

An earlier version of this story misstated the number of Republicans who voted against D.C. voting rights in 2009.

Related Stories:

Senators to Obama: Do Something About Hong Kong

Holder Says It’s ‘Long Past Time’ for D.C. Voting Rights

D.C. Statehood Hearing Explores Other Options

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October 1, 2014

House Caucus Rules Could Change for 114th Congress

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Scalise wants to make caucuses “more professional and transparent.” (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Nearly two decades after former Speaker Newt Gingrich, R-Ga., terminated bank accounts for congressional caucuses and ordered them to vacate their Capitol Hill offices, House Majority Whip Steve Scalise is aiming to amend House rules governing the member organizations.

Scalise told a House Rules panel convened recently to talk about proposals for the 114th Congress that he wants to build on the changes implemented under Gingrich, with the goal of making caucuses “more professional and transparent.”

The Louisiana Republican formerly served as chairman of the Republican Study Committee, one of the 28 caucuses Gingrich sought to eliminate in 1995. The RSC has survived, and thrived, with more than 170 members among its ranks, and Scalise appears to be aiming to strengthen its operations. Scalise shared examples of administrative struggles and asked for a re-examination of the rules governing caucuses. He did not offer specifics, just the outcome of more desired transparency. Full story

September 30, 2014

Ethics Office Finds Evidence Petri Violated House Rules

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Petri will get a look, says the House Ethics Committee. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

The House Ethics Committee announced on Tuesday it will continue to investigate whether Rep. Tom Petri, R-Wis., used his position in Congress to help certain companies in which he held significant financial interest.

But that’s the last the public will likely hear of the investigation.

Petri is retiring at the end of the 113th Congress, at which time the committee’s purview to probe his alleged misconduct will expire. And with Congress in recess until after the midterm elections, members of the panel have little time to act before the 17-term lawmaker’s last day on Capitol Hill. Full story

September 29, 2014

Roland Burris Accused of Shakedown Scheme During Senate Tenure

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An FBI informant alleged Burris was involved in an extortion scheme while in the Senate. (CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Three years after his brief stint in the Senate, a federal court case in Chicago has raised questions about Illinois Democrat Roland Burris’ conduct while he was in office.

His name came up during a pre-trial hearing on Sept. 26 in a bizarre case against a businessman accused of illegally lobbying to overturn U.S. sanctions on the regime of Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe. Defense attorneys questioned Burris’ credibility as a witness because of allegations he was involved in a shakedown scheme during his time in the Senate.

Then-Sen. Burris offered to promote a business to the U.S. military in exchange for a $250,000 a year job when he left office, court documents allege. An FBI informant made the claim in 2012 during grand jury testimony, according to a transcript of the sidebar conversation between the judge and attorneys that was shared by the Chicago Sun-Times. Full story

September 26, 2014

‘Women Who Make a Difference’ Honored in D.C.

tlod 240x180 Women Who Make a Difference Honored in D.C.

(Clark Mindock/CQ Roll Call)

An audience of mostly women filled the banquet hall of the Woman’s National Democratic Club in Northwest D.C. Thursday evening to honor four women in the first Women Who Make a Difference awards, organized by the Top Ladies of Distinction D.C. chapter.

The honorees represented a spectrum of public service in the nation’s capital, from the rising political career of D.C. mayoral front-runner Muriel Bowser to the first female African American U.S. senator, former Ambassador to New Zealand Carol Moseley Braun.

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From left: Bowser, Girton-Mitchell, Moseley Braun, during the Top Ladies of Distinction awards ceremony Thursday night. (Clark Mindock/CQ Roll Call)

“It’s very humbling, because I’m doing what I’m supposed to do,” said another honoree, Rev. Brenda Girton-Mitchell, the director of the Department of Education’s Center for Faith Based and Neighborhood Partnerships. “To have people wanting to recognize that is very extraordinary,” she added. Full story

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