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February 12, 2016

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October 15, 2015

Ryan Is Damned if He Does, and Damned if He Doesn’t

UNITED STATES - JUNE 04: House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Paul Ryan, R-Wisc., conducts a pen and pad briefing with reporters in the Capitol, June 4, 2015. (Photo By Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

Ryan is the one person who might hold House Republicans together. But for how long? (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

I no longer underestimate Paul D. Ryan.

I first met the Wisconsin Republican when he came in for an interview on Nov. 19, 1997. Then 27, he most recently had been a Capitol Hill staffer for conservative Kansas Sen. Sam Brownback.

Full story

February 25, 2015

Remembrance of Shutdowns Past

Elections 2016

(Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Republicans scored big gains in the 2010 and 2014 elections because both of those midterms were about President Barack Obama and the Democratic Party. Democrats had successful elections in 2006, 2008 and 2012 primarily because they made those elections about the GOP and George W. Bush, John McCain and Mitt Romney.

You might think politicians from both sides of the aisle would understand that a political party does best when it makes the national political discussion about the weaknesses, failings and shortcomings of the other party. Full story

January 8, 2015

Will Improving Economy Help Obama’s Case on Keystone?

Mitch McConnell

(Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Events matter in politics and, for a change, they potentially seem to offer a bit of aid and comfort to President Barack Obama in his upcoming battle with the Republican-controlled Congress.

After an impressive across-the-board victory that included a new Senate majority, gains to the party’s House majority and wins at the state legislative level, Republicans are poised to confront the White House over the Keystone XL pipeline. Full story

December 9, 2014

Mary Landrieu’s Loss and the End of Ticket Splitting

Ben Carson

(Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Louisiana Sen. Mary L. Landrieu’s defeat in the Dec. 6 runoff certainly was no surprise. If anything, it seemed inevitable since the evening of Nov. 4, when it became clear a Republican rout was underway and Democrats would lose control of the Senate.

But the veteran Democrat’s defeat is another reminder we have entered a period of parliamentary elections, where the parties stand for starkly different ideological agendas and where ticket-splitting, which follows from individual evaluations apart from party, is relatively rare.

In the end, the “Landrieu brand” in Louisiana did not matter any more than the Pryor brand mattered in Arkansas or the Begich brand mattered in Alaska. Party labels mattered far more than the individual names of the candidates. Voters in all three states saw the incumbents’ Democratic label, and that made their decisions easy. Full story

February 3, 2014

For Democrats, It’s All About (Years) After November

Politics is often about keeping one eye on today and another eye on tomorrow. That’s especially true for Democrats, who should not be completely disheartened about their party’s prospects.

November certainly looks like a challenging election for supporters of President Barack Obama — given the president’s anemic job approval numbers, recent generic ballot tests showing a virtual dead heat in congressional vote intention, the public’s deep dissatisfaction with Washington, D.C., and turnout trends in midterm years.

But Democrats should remember that the 2016 election cycle begins Wednesday, Nov. 5, the day after voters go to the polls to cast their votes in the midterms. And 2016 already looks like a much better cycle than 2014 for Democratic partisans.

Full story

October 22, 2013

‘The Political Middle Has Disappeared’

A terrific post-shutdown “after action report” by Bill McInturff of Public Opinion Strategies, who is one-half of the bipartisan polling team that conducts the NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll, includes one slide (No. 7) that I found particularly instructive.

Titled “the political middle has disappeared,” it shows the ideological distribution of Republican and Democratic members in the House in 1982, 1994, 2002, 2011 and 2012, based on National Journal ratings.

In 1982, only a handful of Republicans were more conservative than the most conservative Democrat and only a handful of Democrats were more liberal than the most liberal Republican. Because of that, a stunning 344 members of the House rated between the most liberal Republican and the most conservative Democrat.

By 2002, most Democrats were more liberal than the most liberal Republican, and most Republicans were more conservative than the most conservative Democrat. Because of that, the number of members in the “overlap” dropped to 137 members, and in 2012 only 11 members fell in that “political middle.”

That single slide doesn’t explain all of the gridlock but it helps explains why the parties can’t work together and why Washington can’t run smoothly in an era of divided government. Full story

October 16, 2013

For GOP, the Damage Is Undeniable

First quarter fundraising from 2011 gave no indication that Cruz would be the eventual GOP Senate nominee in Texas. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

The Cruz wing of the GOP doesn’t really believe in negotiation, which, at its core, requires compromise. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

The deal to open the government and raise the debt ceiling may be done, but the damage to the national Republican Party is considerable.

One GOP consultant — who clearly hails from the more conservative end of his party — didn’t hold back recently in slamming the “no compromise” conservatives who led House Republicans off the political cliff with a government shutdown and by flirting with a debt default.

“We will be weaker when we negotiate with Democrats next time, and we proved that President Obama doesn’t need to negotiate with us,” he said on the condition of anonymity.

The problem, of course, is that the Ted Cruz/Ted Yoho wing of the party doesn’t really believe in negotiation, which, at its core, requires compromise. And while they don’t like compromise, they are particularly unwilling to negotiate with a president they regard as illegitimate and at war with fundamental American values. Full story

October 11, 2013

Is Cruz Causing a Democratic Wave? Maybe, but Don’t Jump the Gun

(Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

(Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

Last week I observed that I hadn’t yet seen “compelling evidence” that a Democratic political wave could be developing. I can no longer say that after seeing the recently released NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll.

That highly regarded poll showed Republican numbers have taken a considerable hit because of the shutdown and the media coverage around it. The GOP’s 24 percent positive/53 percent negative image obviously is a red flag, especially compared with image numbers for the Democratic Party (39 percent positive/40 percent negative) and President Barack Obama (47 percent positive/41 percent negative).

The NBC/WSJ poll’s version of the generic ballot, which asks respondents about their “preference for the outcome of next year’s congressional elections,” shows a substantial shift from an insignificant 3-point Democratic edge (46 percent to 43 percent) to an 8-point Democratic advantage (47 percent to 39 percent).

Respondents split evenly in June on the role of the government, with 48 percent saying that government “should do more to solve problems” and 48 percent saying that government “is doing too many things.”  That has also changed, with 52 percent now saying that government should do more and only 44 percent saying that it is doing too much.

I haven’t mentioned the poll’s shutdown “blame” question because I have serious concerns about its wording. Full story

October 7, 2013

Shutdown Fever: Is the House in Play Now?

On Sunday, a Huffington Post headline screamed what most Democrats were hoping: “GOP In Grave Danger Of Losing House In 2014, PPP Polls Show.” Of course, anything coming from Democratic pollster Public Policy Polling and Political Action, which paid for the surveys, must be taken with at least a grain of salt.

PPP isn’t your typical polling firm. Its surveys often are intended to boost Democratic recruiting, fundraising or prospects. In this case, the “polls” were almost certainly commissioned to create a narrative about the political repercussions of the shutdown and the nature of the midterms.

It’s no coincidence, then, that the PPP memo accompanying the results, written by Jim Williams, observes, “The surveys challenge the conventional wisdom that gerrymandering has put the House out of reach for Democrats.”

Not surprisingly, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee sent out multiple fundraising emails in the hours after reports of the PPP polls surfaced, and dozens of Democratic candidates and liberal groups did the same.

That’s the standard modus operandi these days on both the right and the left: have a sympathetic media organization or polling firm assert some alleged finding, and then have fellow travelers cite the initial report to try to raise cash or create momentum. It is becoming (yawn — excuse me) a little trite. Full story

September 26, 2013


Boehner is the Speaker of the House. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

(Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Once again, Henny Penny is running around to warn us that the sky is falling. A government shutdown is only [fill in the blank] days, [fill in the blank] hours and [fill in the blank] minutes away. The countdown clock shows the seconds ticking by. The end is near.

Well, maybe that’s true. Maybe the government is going to shut down. The national parks will close. You won’t be able to renew your passport, making it impossible for you to flee to some enlightened land where the government is still open and operating normally. You’ll have to re-schedule your visit to the Washington Monument. (Actually, it is closed for repairs anyway, so don’t blame the shutdown, if there is one.)

Or maybe all of the coverage is just a wee bit exaggerated and premature. Maybe the government won’t shut down at all.

Pardon my blasé attitude about it all, but I’ve seen this movie before, and unless they changed the ending — and it certainly is possible they did — I’m not getting too excited yet. Full story

August 27, 2013

When Calling Something ‘Politics’ Is Mere Politics Itself

Last week, CBS News veteran correspondent Mark Knoller tweeted that “Pres Obama says he’ll do ‘whatever it takes’ to get Congress, esp GOP, ‘to think less about politics and party’ & do what’s good for US.”

I hear that sort of sentiment a lot — politicians telling each other to put partisanship aside and simply do what is best for the country. Most of the time, it’s a lot of baloney.

You can think that many Republican members of Congress are nuts, extremists or, to quote one Republican officeholder, “wacko birds” without thinking that they are taking stands merely because of “politics and party.”

I have been critical of purist conservatives and liberals who are unwilling to compromise on important issues where compromise is necessary to address crucial, immediate problems. But painting all opposition to the president’s agenda as merely “politics” or “partisanship” is nothing more than a political tactic. In other words, it is “politics.” Full story

June 19, 2013

A Good Test of Exactly How Screwed Up Washington Is

Stabenow leads the Senate Agricultural Committee. (Chris Maddaloni/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Stabenow worked with Republicans to pass the farm bill in the Senate. (Chris Maddaloni/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Once upon a time, on a very different planet and in a very different country, the farm bill was not among the more controversial things that Congress did.

Yes, previous farm bills have produced knock-down, drag-out fights between various parts of the country, each seeking to protect its own commodities and farmers. And in 1981, the farm bill passed by only two votes, 205-203, with the conference committee’s report passing the House just two weeks before the end of the calendar year.

But those were largely fights over who got what, and most farm bills have produced relatively civil fights over how the pie — a shrinking pie, when it comes to money for actual farmers — is divided. Full story

April 19, 2013

Landrieu’s Gun Vote: A Possible Political Explanation

Landrieu was one of two vulnerable Democrats up for re-election in 2014 in red states who voted in favor of the Manchin-Toomey gun amendment. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Landrieu’s voting record stands out from other vulnerable Democrats up for re-election next year. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Three red-state Democratic senators up for re-election next year – Alaska’s Mark Begich, Arkansas’ Mark Pryor and Montana’s Max Baucus – voted against the gun control measure offered by Sens. Joe Manchin III, D-W.Va., and Patrick J. Toomey, R-Pa., but not Louisiana Democratic Sen. Mary L. Landrieu.

Republicans are already licking their chops, barely able to hide their glee and control their euphoria. And they may well defeat Landrieu next year, when she seeks a fourth term. But anyone who thinks Landrieu is politically deaf ought to think again.

I don’t know whether Landrieu can survive her gun vote – or her votes for the Democratic Senate budget and the Obama health care bill – but the veteran Democrat certainly had political reasons for doing what she did on guns (if politics was part of her calculation). Full story

April 17, 2013

How Will Divided Attention Affect Obama, Congress?

Obama has a lot of different issues to manage as he seeks to build his legacy in his second term. (JEWEL SAMAD/AFP/Getty Images)

Obama has a lot of different issues to manage as he seeks to build his legacy in his second term. (JEWEL SAMAD/AFP/Getty Images)

Not much going on these days, huh? There are only a few things on the president’s — and Congress’ — plate, including:

  • Guns
  • A big budget compromise
  • Immigration overhaul
  • North Korea
  • Bombs at the Boston Marathon
  • Iran’s nuclear program
  • And oh yes, jobs and the economy

Recent events once again prove that while politicians — and particularly presidents — like to believe that they can always set the agenda, much of political leadership involves responding to circumstances.

“Stuff happens” is the way I like to put it. It can be an oil spill, a shooting, a foreign leader firing on his own citizens, a trial of a doctor who killed women and children at an abortion clinic or some crisis manufactured by a largely unknown young political leader who needs to solidify himself at home. Full story

April 5, 2013

New Jobs Numbers Raise Economic — and Political — Questions

(Douglas Graham/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

The unemployment rate slid slightly in March, only because people stopped looking for work. (Douglas Graham/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

The jobs numbers just reported for March — an increase of only 88,000 jobs — are horrendous, especially coming after February’s strong job surge (236,000 new jobs revised up to 268,000).

Forget the unemployment rate sliding from 7.7 percent to 7.6 percent. As The Assocaited Press noted, that drop resulted “only because more people stopped looking for work.”

One bad month of new jobs data isn’t likely to have a huge effect on President Barack Obama’s job approval numbers, and good news in the April report would quickly erase concerns about the March numbers.

But any sense over the next few months that the growing optimism about the economy has been misguided could send the Dow Jones industrial average down hundreds of points and put pressure on the president. Full story

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