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November 22, 2014

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November 21, 2014

D.C. Health Care Enrollment Site Down Until Saturday Night

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DC Health Link is currently down (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Members of Congress and Capitol Hill staffers looking to enroll in the health care exchanges this weekend will have to wait until Saturday night, as the website administering enrollment is down for maintenance. The enrollment period for congressional employees began on Nov. 10 and ends on Dec. 8.

“During this outage, important maintenance work is taking place that will resolve a variety of different issues employees have been seeing,” read a message sent to Senate staffers Friday morning, which also noted the website, also known as DC Health Link, was unavailable beginning Thursday evening. A DC Health Link spokesman said the maintenance would be complete by 8 p.m. Saturday.

The spokesman said the website was unavailable due to a data update. Before individuals can renew their health care coverage, the Affordable Care Act requires the data to be refreshed to verify that the individuals are still eligible for their plans.

“The data refresh requires the on-line portal to be unavailable for a brief period of time,” the spokesman wrote in an email to CQ Roll Call. “The maintenance period of the on-line portal also impacts the small business marketplace customer accounts including small businesses and congressional employees.”

DC Health Link is also in the process of correcting information for employee accounts.

“Although enrollment is correct, we identified a set of employee accounts that did not reflect correct information because of multiple old applications,” wrote the spokesman. “We have already successfully resolved some accounts; today’s update is expected to correct the remaining accounts.”

For Hill staffers, the notice that the website was down may have brought on some unwelcome déjà vu. Glitches with DC Health Link during the first enrollment process last year caused headaches on Capitol Hill and resulted in an extension for the enrollment deadline.

Since the Affordable Care Act took effect last year, congressional health care has been a target for those aiming to dismantle the president’s signature legislation. In, October, the conservative group Judicial Watch filed a lawsuit challenging Congress’ small business status in enrollment. Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis., is also in an ongoing legal battle arguing that lawmakers and Hill staffers should not be granted employer contributions.

Niels Lesniewski contribute to this report.

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November 19, 2014

Capitol Dome Braces for Next Phase of Restoration

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Sen. John Hoeven discusses the dome restoration project. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

With frigid winds whipping around the 288 foot-tall Capitol Dome, Architect of the Capitol Stephen T. Ayers said the next phase of the nearly $60 million restoration project has begun.

Ayers told reporters gathered on the roof of the Capitol Tuesday that the scaffolding surrounding the Dome was complete, which he said was “a significant milestone.”

“The purpose of the scaffold is a very practical one,” said Ayers. “With its completion, workers are now able to access the Dome freely and can use the equipment necessary to begin the restoration work in earnest.” And those workers will be spotted on the 25 levels of scaffolding throughout the winter months, according to restoration construction manager Joseph Abriatis. Full story

November 18, 2014

Former Sergeant-at-Arms Howard Greene Dies at 73

Former Senate Sergeant-at-Arms Howard O. Greene Jr. died at his home in Alexandria, Va., Sunday at the age of 73.

According to Greene’s ex-wife Elizabeth Letchworth, his death was very unexpected. Greene died from an aggressive infection in his stomach. Letchworth said he was surrounded by family and friends when he died.

Greene first came to the Senate as a door messenger at age 26 and served the chamber for the next 28 years. The Delaware native retired from the Senate in 1996, stepping down as Senate sergeant-at-arms and doorkeeper, the chief law enforcement and administrative officer elected by senators. Full story

Say Cheese! New Members of Congress Pose for Class Photo

freshman photo008 111814 copy Say Cheese! New Members of Congress Pose for Class Photo

The freshman class for the 114th Congress. Click on photo to enlarge. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

Just after 8 a.m. on Tuesday, 58 new members of Congress participated in an orientation rite of passage: the class photo.

With the temperature below freezing, the freshmen hustled up the steps at the East Front of the Capitol, a number of them in winter coats, but quite a few braving the cold in just their suits. Republican Glenn Grothman casually walked up in his suit with a cup of coffee in hand, the frigid air likely not phasing the Wisconsin member-elect.

The freshman members, who have spent the past week getting acquainted with each other and their congressional duties, happily greeted one another. After first standing in formation with their coats on, the final hold-outs decided to shed their winter wear for the photo.

Most of the women in the class lined up in the first row, and friendships seemed to already be forming. As Rep.-elect Mia Love came over to the front row, fellow Republican Martha E. McSally, whose Arizona race is currently in a recount, exclaimed, “Yay!” and put her arm around Love.

The members were set and faced the photographer, eager to get the show on the road, when Democratic Del.-elect Stacey Plaskett of the Virgin Islands exclaimed, “Wait a minute, wait a minute!” as she fixed her collar. Her fellow freshmen took the slight delay in stride, laughing as she made sure she was ready.

After the official photo, they turned toward the press, who snapped their own pictures. After a couple minutes, Rep.-elect Debbie Dingell, D-Mich., was heard saying, “OK, are we done?”

The members then quickly walked back to their coats to warm up.

“It should be cold every year,” one congressional staffer was overheard saying. “It doesn’t usually get done that quickly.”

The newly elected members then bustled off to the House office buildings, bound for more meetings and briefings.

“Oh yeah, we had a lot of fun up there,” said Rep. Dave Brat, R-Va., before walking off to see who accidentally took his coat.

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November 14, 2014

New Member Orientation? There’s an App for That

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Miller speaks to new members at an orientation meeting. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

For the first time ever, incoming lawmakers are encouraged to use an app to guide them through new member orientation.

At the first orientation meeting Thursday morning, House Administration Chairwoman Candice S. Miller, R-Mich., encouraged the new members to take out their smartphones and tablets and download the “Box” application, which is an app for sharing documents.

“All the information about the sessions, the presenters, various things, their ability to take notes and all that can all be done on that iPad,” Miller told CQ Roll Call later in the day.

Miller explained that sharing orientation information and documents via the app was an effort to modernize the biannual welcome week.

“I also remember carrying around 25 pounds of binders and paperwork,” said Miller said of her own orientation, describing the decision to incorporate the app.

“So we’re trying to use some technology, make it better, improve it,” Miller said. “We’ve just been trying to think of everything that we can. You don’t want to waste their time here, obviously they’re very busy. We just try to make them as impactful as we can when they are sworn in.”

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22 Officers Join the Capitol Police

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The U.S. Capitol Police Recruit Officer Class 177 is sworn in during a ceremony in the Dirksen Senate Office Building. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

The United States Capitol Police welcomed 22 new officers to its force Friday morning at the swearing-in ceremony for Recruit Officer Class 177.

“The men and women you see before you today are joining a unique organization with a unique mission to protect Congress, its legislative processes, members, employees, visitors, and facilities from crime, disruption or terrorism,” Daniel B. Malloy, assistant chief of police and chief operating officer, told the recruits, their families and friends gathered at the ceremony in the Dirksen Senate Office Building.

Malloy detailed the sizable tasks ahead for the new officers, pointing out the Capitol Police screened more than 9.8 million visitors to the Capitol grounds last year alone, along with 150,000 vehicle sweeps on campus and 27,000 sweeps off campus.

“I can’t wait to put what I learned in training to use,” new officer Zachary Madera, the recruit class’ president, said after the ceremony.

Madera, 22, from Grand Hill, Mass., has been interested in law enforcement from a young age. His father is a corrections officer and his uncle is a police officer, but Madera wanted to join the Capitol Police after learning about the opportunities for mobility.

While interning for the U.S. Marshals in D.C. as a student at Westfield State University, a Capitol Police officer came to speak to the interns about the force.

“He said he loved it because you constantly keep moving, you stay busy,” said Madera. “From that point on, I already knew I was going to apply when I was old enough … I got really lucky. I left [college] a week before I graduated — my professors all let me take the finals early — and next thing you know I’m sweating in Georgia.”

Recruit classes prepare for the force in Maryland and Georgia, undergoing grueling physical training and academic testing.

The 22 officers, ranging in age from 22 to 30, were able to relive part of their training during the swearing-in ceremony. After they took their oaths and received their pins and diplomas, the Training Services Bureau showed a video of highlights from camp.

With dramatic music playing, the officers saw themselves back at training camp and wearing black t-shirts with their motto, “Until the end, we will defend,” participating in firearm, active shooter, security screening, and geography training, which involved detailing the Capitol campus in chalk on black asphalt.

Now the new officers will be able to put their learned skills to the test. For the next four to five weeks they will participate in the Field Training Officer program, where they will rotate between the various departments. After FTO, they will receive their first assignment.

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Rohrabacher Tells Republicans Pot ‘Is Going to Help You Politically’

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Rohrabacher, right, joined Democrats from districts that voted to legalize recreational weed on Thursday. (Photo By Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

Rep. Dana Rohrabacher was a senior speechwriter at the White House when first lady Nancy Reagan coined the catchphrase, “Just Say No.”

On Thursday, the California Republican acknowledged just how much things have changed in Washington when it comes to drug policy as he stood alongside Democrats Earl Blumenauer, Jared Polis and Eleanor Holmes Norton to talk to reporters about Oregon, Colorado and the District of Columbia voters approving legalized weed.

Rohrabacher’s attitude toward the drug has mellowed since watching President Ronald Reagan sign the “National Crusade for a Drug Free America” bill into law in 1986, and he thinks the rest of the GOP should hop on the pot bandwagon. Full story

November 13, 2014

Learning by Doing: New House Members Juggle Orientation and Governing

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Brat was sworn in Wednesday. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

Newly elected House members filed into the Capitol Visitor Center auditorium Thursday morning to be briefed on how to run a congressional office, but three of them were already putting their operations into action.

Three lawmakers elected on Nov. 4 were sworn into the House Wednesday night because they also won special elections where the seats were actually vacant. Now they have to find time between orientation events to vote on high-profile issues such as the Keystone XL Pipeline.

“I mean, I’ve been preparing for a while, so I think we’re in good shape. But it is a lot to handle,” Rep. Dave Brat, R-Va., told CQ Roll Call after he was sworn in. “We’re going through orientation right now. I’ll be voting tomorrow and so I’ll just, you know, vote on the principles I laid out in the campaign.” Full story

By Bridget Bowman Posted at 2:02 p.m.
Uncategorized

November 12, 2014

Feds in ‘Catch-22′ on D.C. Marijuana Legalization

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The DEA could be a buzzkill for D.C.’s legalization measure. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Democrats representing jurisdictions that have voted to legalize recreational weed will roll out their congressional strategy Thursday, but federal drug regulators may be plotting to handcuff the first such ballot initiative sent to Congress for review.

A former Drug Enforcement Administration associate chief counsel, who advised investigations and prosecutions arising under the Controlled Substances Act before moving into private practice in 2012, predicts the agency will be engaged in discussions with staffers to stop the District of Columbia from joining other marijuana-legalized localities.

“No matter what the makeup of Congress is, they face a daunting task — allowing, by act of Congress, [people] to engage in something that is forbidden by federal law,” said Larry P. Cote, who now co-leads Quarles & Brady’s DEA compliance and litigation practice group and serves as the managing partner of the firm’s D.C. office. Cote described it as a “Catch-22.” Full story

By Hannah Hess Posted at 1:29 p.m.
Uncategorized

November 10, 2014

Former Rep. Philip Crane Dies at 84

WR000523.03 440x322 Former Rep. Philip Crane Dies at 84

Crane died Sunday. (Scott Ferrell/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Former Rep. Philip Crane, R-Ill., an early leader of the conservative movement, died Sunday of complications from lung cancer. He was 84.

Crane’s former chief of staff Kirt Johnson said Crane was surrounded by his family when he died at his daughter Rebekah’s home in Jefferson, Md. Crane gained national attention as a staunch conservative during his 35 years in Congress. He served in the House from 1969 to 2005, and was first elected in a special election to succeed Donald Rumsfeld, who stepped down to join the Nixon administration. Full story

By Bridget Bowman Posted at 3:31 p.m.
Uncategorized

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