Roll Call: Latest News on Capitol Hill, Congress, Politics and Elections
January 26, 2015

January 26, 2015

Harry Reid Released From Hospital After Eye Surgery

Reid returned to the Capitol last week. He had eye surgery Monday. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

Reid returned to the Capitol last week. He had eye surgery Monday. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid is out of the hospital after successful eye surgery, according to a statement from spokesman Adam Jentleson.

Jentleson said the surgery was “successful” but there is no definitive verdict on whether Reid will regain sight in his right eye damaged in a New Year’s Day exercise accident.

“Senator Reid was released from the hospital this afternoon and is currently sitting in his living room with Mrs. Reid, cracking jokes and asking about the whip count for this evening’s vote on the Keystone pipeline legislation,” spokesman Adam Jentleson said in a statement issued just ahead of a vote to limit debate on the pipeline measure, where supporters looked certain to fall short of the 60 vote requirement. That’s because of a combination of Democratic angst over the amendment process and a number of absences.

“The surgery took three and a half hours and was successful in removing the blood clot in his right eye, additional blood from the front of his right eye and repairing the orbital bones in his right brow, temple and cheek. During the surgery, Senator Reid was under full anesthesia,” Jentleson said. “Doctors have said they are optimistic about his prospects for regaining vision in his right eye but there is no definitive verdict yet. Senator Reid will recuperate from his residence this week and continue to monitor the Senate floor closely through meetings and phone calls with his fellow senators, the White House and staff.” Full story

Senate Absences Begin for 2016 (Updated)

elections 2016

(Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Updated 3:15 p.m. | It may be January, but the Senate absences for potential presidential candidates have already begun.

Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky opted against attending the joint House-Senate Republican Republican retreat in Pennsylvania, and now it’s been reported that Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., could miss a week’s worth of business on the floor.

ABC News reported that Rubio would spend the week fundraising, with several events in California. Rubio is among those in the Senate Republican Conference mulling a White House bid. His Senate seat is also on the ballot in 2016.

Full story

Cuba CODEL Gets Firsthand Account of Dramatic Dealings

Leahy, center, and his wife Marcelle meet with Cardinal Ortega. (Courtesy of Leahy's Senate office)

Leahy, center, and his wife, Marcelle, meet with Ortega during a recent visit to Cuba. (Courtesy Leahy’s Senate office.)

A relationship forged on Sen. Patrick J. Leahy’s first visit to Cuba some 15 years ago helped the Vermont Democrat take an unexpected step in support of the White House’s efforts to bring home Alan Gross and re-establish diplomatic relations with the island nation.

A clandestine visit and subsequent message-passing with Pope Francis might sound like the makings of a spy novel, but both actually happened. And a congressional delegation, the first official trip to Cuba since the Obama administration’s December policy change announcement, got to hear a firsthand account from the man at the heart of the dealings.

Full story

Grassley to Ramp Up Oversight at Judiciary

Grassley in his office. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

Grassley in his office. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

When Loretta Lynch paid Sen. Charles E. Grassley a visit last month, the new Judiciary Committee chairman handed her a book — of all the unanswered letters he’s sent to the administration.

“I want to know if she is going to cooperate with our oversight,” the six-term Iowa Republican told CQ Roll Call in an interview in his office. “I am very interested in oversight … and we can’t carry it out if we can’t get the cooperation from them.”

Lynch, who was selected by President Barack Obama late last year to be attorney general, will have a chance to answer Grassley’s and the rest of the GOP’s questions on immigration and other issues all day Wednesday.

Known for his heartland candor, Grassley, unlike some other Republicans who have vowed to oppose Lynch’s nomination over Obama’s executive actions, hasn’t yet made up his mind how he will vote on her nomination to replace Eric H. Holder Jr.

“I want to get a feeling if she is going to be, hopefully, a lot less political, or not political at all, compared to Holder,” Grassley said.

Grassley’s push for strong oversight isn’t new — he handed Holder a book of letters too and he gained a reputation as a dogged investigator as the chairman of the Finance Committee the last time he held a gavel, more than eight years ago.

Aside from being a constitutional responsibility, Grassley’s philosophy has been that oversight can achieve results more quickly than legislation.

“I’m not talking just about hearings,” Grassley said. “What can we get by letter, what can we get by telephone conversations, what can we get by working through [the press]? … You use all those tools before you have a hearing.”

Grassley told Lynch he has seen myriad nominees — from both Democratic and Republican administrations — promise to cooperate and then ultimately disappoint him.

“It would really be better if, instead of saying, ‘yes,’ say, ‘maybe;’ then you’re being honest,” he said he told Lynch.

Grassley hopes the administration will be more responsive, including giving him the Office of Legal Counsel’s “legal opinions on the president’s executive edicts and things of that nature.”

On legislation, Grassley told CQ Roll Call about the possibility of moving bipartisan measures of interest to the committee last Congress.

He said moving on changing the sentencing system could be easier than the others.

“I’ve had some different views than some of my Republican colleagues have had; it’s going to be difficult to work things out, but I wouldn’t say they couldn’t be worked out,” Grassley said. “Compared to patent trolling, juvenile justice reauthorization, [the Freedom of Information Act], I think those things are a little harder, but not impossible.”

But he said he remains skeptical of a sentencing system overhaul. The committee cleared a bill last year sponsored by Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, and Senate Minority Whip Richard J. Durbin, D-Ill., which would restore judicial discretion by making reductions to mandatory minimums for some drug crimes.

“Mandatory minimums are about the only thing that makes sure there is some consistency from one judge to another,” Grassley said.

He’s also monitoring what’s going on in the states and the administration on marijuana.

“I see it divided into three different areas,” he said. “Commercial production of hemp, which is pretty much up to the states under the farm bill. Recreational marijuana: I want to make sure it’s not a gateway to higher drugs before I would vote for legalization. And medical marijuana: You ought to have the same standard as you have for other drug approval by [the Food and Drug Administration] from the standpoint of efficacy and safety.”

And he riffed on prosecutorial discretion.

“This is probably something that is going to come up with Lynch, whether I would ask it or not doesn’t matter,” he said. “But for an attorney general, not just on marijuana, but on anything, to signal to the whole world that you are going to prosecute some and not prosecute others. … I understand that you don’t have the resources to prosecute everybody, but you don’t send a signal to the rest of the world, ‘[It] doesn’t matter,’ or, ‘It matters in some instances and not others,’ because you’re going to encourage disrespect for the law.”

Grassley also isn’t done with the Operation Fast and Furious and IRS scandals.

Republicans have been pursuing answers on Fast and Furious for years; the refusal by Holder to turn over related documents resulted in a House vote to hold him in contempt in 2012.

Last October, Grassley, along with then-House Oversight and Government Reform Chairman Darrell Issa, R-Calif., wrote to the Department of Justice about a gun found at the scene of a shooting in Arizona connected to the botched gun sting operation.

The letter was the fourth time Grassley requested information on a Fast and Furious gun.

On the IRS, Grassley said he and his staff would work closely on the ongoing investigation with Finance Chairman Orrin G. Hatch, R-Utah.

Republicans have been frustrated at the pace of the Justice Department’s own investigation.

Meanwhile, Grassley has been gearing up for re-election next year.

“The days of cheap campaigns are over,” he said, though he conceded one advantage — the anticipated large field of 2016 presidential contenders who will be eager to lend their support to the popular senior statesman from Iowa, home of the first round of caucuses.

“When I have what you might call house parties or, or fundraising parties in homes in Iowa, I think I can call on a lot of presidential candidates that’ll help me get out a big crowd,” he said.

He also touts his personal ground game.

“My philosophy for running a campaign is doing the best possible job you can with your official duties, and then that includes Washington, D.C., but it also includes the 99-county tours that I’ve done for 34 years in a row,” Grassley said. “I’ve had seven town meetings so far this year.”

The 114th: CQ Roll Call’s Guide to the New Congress

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January 23, 2015

McConnell Shows He’s the Boss

(Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

(Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

The honeymoon may be over for Mitch McConnell.

The Kentucky Republican’s open-process experiment took a turn Thursday night when the newly minted majority leader showed his patience has its limits, as he forced a series of votes to table Democratic amendments and refused to allow their sponsors a minute to explain them.

Full story

January 22, 2015

Senator on ‘#DeflateGate': Send Colts to Super Bowl

(Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

(Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Sen. Dan Coats tweeted Thursday that the Indiana Colts, not the New England Patriots, should play in the Super Bowl, as the National Football League controversy surrounding the use of under-inflated game balls in Sunday’s AFC Championship continued to unfold.

Taking to Twitter, the Hoosier State Republican proposed that Patriots’ head coach Bill Belichick should be suspended, and Tom Brady should be benched. Anything short of this, Coats then tweeted, and Hoosiers “file suit” and ask Supreme Court Chief Justice Roberts, an Indiana native, to take up the case “immediately.”

Asked about so-called deflate-gate outside the Senate chamber, Coats walked it back.”Obviously, I was a little over the top,” he said of the tweets. But Coats echoed calls from Nevada’s senators for action from the NFL.

“I think the league should thoroughly investigate this, because there have been other accusations relative to the Patriots before,” Coats said. “Let’s put it to bed. I’m sure the Patriots would want to put it to bed also.”

Related:

Nevada Senators Blast NFL Over Under-Inflated Footballs

The 114th: CQ Roll Call’s Guide to the New Congress

Get breaking news alerts and more from Roll Call in your inbox or on your iPhone.

By Hannah Hess Posted at 6:11 p.m.
Policy

Graham: Anti-Abortion Bill Will Return, but ‘Nobody’s for Rape’

(Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

(Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

The lead Senate sponsor of anti-abortion legislation that was pulled from the House schedule late Wednesday said Thursday it should not move forward without changes to the rape provision.

But Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., said he was looking forward to a debate on abortion policy once the issues with the bill are resolved.

“This is going to be about wholesale abortions on demand in 20 weeks, five months into pregnancy, and it won’t be about rape,” Graham said. “Nobody’s for rape.”

Full story

Nevada Senators Blast NFL Over Under-Inflated Footballs

Reid held his first press conference of the year Thursday. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

Reid held his first press conference of the year Thursday. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

Nevada’s senators had stern words Thursday for the National Football League in the aftermath of findings that the New England Patriots made use of under-inflated footballs.

“As the Senator from the only state where sports betting is legal, it is imperative the integrity of the game never be questioned. When individuals break professional rules to gain unfair competitive advantages, everyone associated with the game is impacted,” Republican Dean Heller said in a statement. “This type of behavior should never be tolerated.”

Full story

Wendell Ford, Longtime Kentucky Senator, Dies at 90

Ford, left, made sure to attend Grimes' election eve rally in November. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Ford, left, made sure to attend Grimes’ election eve rally in November. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Kentucky political legend and purveyor of Southern wit Wendell H. Ford has died.

Ford, 90, had been undergoing treatment for lung cancer.

A Democrat, Ford served in the Senate for 24 years before retiring at the end of his fourth term in 1999. Prior to being elected to the Senate, Ford served as Kentucky governor, lieutenant governor and did a stint in the state Senate.

Full story

Harry Reid ‘Intending to Run,’ Expects Swift Recovery (Video)

(Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

Reid walks returned to the Capitol on Tuesday. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

The venue was different, and his face was bruised and bandaged, but Harry Reid was still Harry Reid.

With an American and Nevada flag in the background, along with a bald eagle and a box of “Search Light” matches on the wall over his shoulder, Reid held court with reporters in a meeting room in his Capitol office suite for a news conference that could’ve taken place any Tuesday afternoon near the Senate’s iconic Ohio Clock.

Full story

January 21, 2015

Harry Reid to Undergo Eye Surgery

Reid makes his way through the Senate Reception Room after the senate luncheons on his first day in the Capitol since injuring himself. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

Reid makes his way through the Senate Reception Room after the Senate luncheons on his first day in the Capitol since injuring himself. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid is scheduled to have eye surgery on Monday, a result of his New Year’s Day exercise accident.

“On Monday, as a necessary step to assist in recovering full vision in his right eye, Senator Reid will undergo surgery on his right eye at George Washington University Hospital in Washington, D.C.,” said Reid spokeswoman Kristen Orthman. “Senator Reid was notified that this surgery will be necessary following a doctor’s appointment yesterday.” Full story

By Niels Lesniewski Posted at 4:19 p.m.
Harry Reid

Sessions Poised to Have Immigration Oversight Role

(Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Sessions is one of the president’s biggest critics on immigration. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

One of the most vocal critics of President Barack Obama’s immigration policies appears set to wield the gavel of a key Senate subcommittee.

Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., is in line to become chairman of the Senate Judiciary subcommittee with authority over immigration law, a move that a source familiar with the situation said was already a done deal although there’s been no official announcement. The panel is scheduled to consider its subcommittee assignments and conduct organizational business when it convenes Thursday morning.

“I think Sen. [Charles E.] Grassley’s going to announce that pretty soon,” Sessions told CQ Roll Call, declining to get ahead of the panel’s chairman.

Full story

January 20, 2015

Rand Paul to Quote MLK, John Lewis in SOTU Response

iraq rand paul

Paul will deliver his own response to the State of the Union address. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Sen. Rand Paul plans to quote from Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. when responding to Tuesday night’s State of the Union address.

In an early excerpt provided to CQ Roll Call, the Kentucky Republican cites both King and fellow civil-rights leader Rep. John Lewis, D-Ga., in reference to tension and discontent in America today.

Full story

By Niels Lesniewski Posted at 6:52 p.m.
2016, Rand Paul

Rand Paul’s Message: ‘Do No Harm’ In Foreign Affairs

Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., makes his way through the basement of the Capitol before a vote on the Senate floor, December 12, 2014. (Photo By Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

Paul will have his own response to the State of the Union address. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Possible 2016 contender Sen. Rand Paul says that the foreign policy potion of his own response to Tuesday’s State of the Union address will focus on an old adage from his medical career: “Do no harm.”

“I think one the biggest things about foreign policy is that you should think before you act, and that’s one of the themes that I’ll have tonight is: First, do no harm. As physicians, we’re taught first to do no harm, which means think through,” the Kentucky Republican said. “You have enormous power as a surgeon. Before you cut into someone, make sure you have the right diagnosis. Try not to make mistakes.”

Paul is issuing his own video response, separate from the official message to be delivered by Sen. Joni Ernst, R-Iowa.

In an interview in his Washington office ahead of the speech by President Barack Obama, Paul used the potential for additional sanctions against Iran over its nuclear program as an example where Congress should avoid doing such harm. Full story

Harry Reid Back at Capitol, Will Miss State of the Union (Updated)

Harry Reid

Reid makes his way through the Senate Reception Room Tuesday en route to the senate luncheons on his first day in the Capitol since injuring himself in a exercise accident. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

Updated 3:04 p.m. | Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid returned to the Capitol Tuesday to lead the Democratic Caucus lunch, but he won’t be making it to the State of the Union address.

Richard J. Durbin, the Senate minority whip, said the Nevada Democrat was given a standing ovation at the lunch by his colleagues. Full story

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