Roll Call: Latest News on Capitol Hill, Congress, Politics and Elections
December 20, 2014

December 19, 2014

Martin Paone New Senate Liaison

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Paone, seen here packing his belongings in his Senate office on Jan. 30, 2008 as he prepared to depart from 32 years on Capitol Hill. (CQ Roll Call File Photo)

The White House’s new Senate liaison is an old familiar face around the chamber, and someone who really knows how the trains run.

Martin P. Paone will join the Obama administration as deputy assistant to the president for legislative affairs, a White House official confirmed Friday afternoon.

Paone ran the Senate’s floor operations for the Democrats as their party secretary from 1995-2008, and in a 32-year tenure on Capitol Hill, spent 29 of them on the floor. That meant he was involved in many of the chamber’s most memorable moments, including the 1988 incident when Majority Leader Robert C. Byrd, D-Wva., went through the procedural maneuvers to compel attendance that led to the arrest of Oregon Republican Bob Packwood.

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Paul Challenges Rubio Over Obama’s Cuba Plan

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(Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky trolled Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida, his potential rival for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination, on Twitter Friday over Rubio’s opposition to President Obama’s plan to normalize relations with Cuba.

Paul’s twitter-storm comes after the president announced sweeping changes in relations with Cuba Wednesday, including expanding exports, relaxing travel restrictions and renewing diplomatic relations with ambassadors and embassies.

Paul’s position puts him at odds with most Republicans, including incoming Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., who in a recent interview said he defers to Rubio, a Cuban-American, on the issue, and Speaker John A. Boehner, R-Ohio, who torched the move.

The Kentucky Republican, who often gets tagged with the isolationist label by his critics, said Rubio is “acting like an isolationist who wants to retreat to our borders and perhaps build a moat. I reject this isolationism.”

Paul drew an analogy with China and Vietnam, which are both communist nations with which the U.S. now has normalized relations. “So why not Cuba?” Paul asked.

Paul also prodded Rubio about the fact that young Cuban-Americans are increasingly supportive of normalizing relations between the two countries.
On Friday, Paul published an op-ed in Time making many of the same points.
“Let’s hope cooler heads will ultimately prevail and we unleash a trade tsunami that washes the Castros once and for all into the sea,” Paul said in his op-ed.
Rubio’s office didn’t respond inquiries seeking comment. But in recent days Rubio has pledged to use every means available to him to unravel Obama’s Cuba plan, which he believes will do nothing to bring about free elections and democracy in Cuba.

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

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How the Nuclear Option Changed the Judiciary

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(Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

For Sen. Harry Reid, going “nuclear” set the groundwork for his last great act of the 113th Congress.

A little more than a year after Senate Democrats deployed the “nuclear option” to effectively change the Senate rules on nominations with a simple majority, Democrats up and down Pennsylvania Avenue generally seem happy with the changes, even as the Senate shifts to Republican control for 2015.

White House Counsel Neil Eggleston on Wednesday highlighted the 134 judges confirmed in the 113th Congress alone, saying that was 44 percent of the total confirmed during President Barack Obama’s tenure. That number included 132 federal district and circuit judges, according to Senate Democrats.

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December 18, 2014

Reid: Yucca Mountain Project Will Never Be Built

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(Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Sen. Harry Reid claimed another victory Thursday in his never-ending fight to kill the Yucca Mountain nuclear waste project — and ensure it stays dead.

The Nevada Democrat touted a new Nuclear Regulatory Commission report.

“The latest study released by the NRC acknowledges one of the major weaknesses of the effort to resurrect Yucca Mountain: the federal government does not have the water it needs nor control of the land necessary to build a nuclear waste dump in Nevada,” Reid said in a release.

The NRC report, released Thursday, also noted “the land is not free of significant encumbrances such as mining rights, deeds, rights-of-way or other legal rights.” Full story

By Humberto Sanchez Posted at 5:53 p.m.
Harry Reid

Rand Paul on Cuba: Open Trade a Better Way to Fight Communism

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Paul said opening up Cuba could be more effective than an embargo. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Sen. Rand Paul says President Barack Obama should expect to face thousands of riders on next year’s spending bills.

“I say we put not dozens, not hundreds, but thousands of instructions to the president on how it should be spent,” the Kentucky Republican said Thursday. “That’s the power of the purse. Now, some have been disappointed we haven’t used it so far, but we haven’t controlled the Senate, so we haven’t been able to do it.” Full story

December 17, 2014

Sessions Yields to Enzi for Budget Gavel (Updated)

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Enzi will take the reins in the 114th Congress. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Updated 7:23 p.m. | Sen. Michael B. Enzi will be the chairman of the Senate Budget Committee in the next Congress.

The Wyoming Republican will get the job over current ranking member Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., who announced Wednesday he’d be deferring the position. Enzi has seniority on the panel, meaning his decision to assert his position would have made his selection likely in the event it was put to a vote of the Republican members of the committee.

“Mike is an accountant and a small businessman who understands the need to balance budgets and tell the truth about the numbers. He is a man of integrity and principle, respected by all of his Senate colleagues. I am eager to assist him next year, and I hope to tackle the important issue of welfare reform,” Sessions said in a statement.

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By Niels Lesniewski Posted at 5:06 p.m.
Budget

Rubio Threatens To Unravel Obama Cuba Deal

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Rubio adjusts his tie ahead of a press conference blasting President Barack Obama’s deal with Cuba. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., excoriated President Obama’s plan to normalize relations with Cuba and threatened to hold up efforts to confirm an ambassador and fund an embassy.

“This president is the single worst negotiator we have had in the White House in my lifetime who has basically given the Cuban government everything it asked for and received no assurances of any advances of democracy and freedom in return,” ripped Rubio, who may run for president in 2016, at a press conference. Full story

Lindsey Graham Balks at Funding U.S. Embassy in Cuba (Updated)

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(Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Updated 3:10 p.m. | The debate over President Barack Obama’s announced changes in U.S. policy toward Cuba will face a tough test at the Senate Appropriations Committee next year.

Sen. Lindsey Graham, who is expected to become chairman of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on State-Foreign Operations, said Tuesday he would mount an effort to prevent the use of funds for a U.S. embassy to open in Havana.

“I will do all in my power to block the use of funds to open an embassy in Cuba. Normalizing relations with Cuba is bad idea at a bad time,” the South Carolina Republican said Wednesday on Twitter.

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December 16, 2014

Democrats Close Out Majority With Wins on Nominations

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Reid said that the Democrats could have accomplished more during the lame-duck session. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

“This will be the last vote of this Congress,” Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., announced shortly before 9:30 p.m.

The Senate’s end-of-session mechanics kicked into high gear Tuesday, with the chamber confirming a slew of President Barack Obama’s judicial and executive nominations and clearing a one-year retroactive extension of lapsed tax breaks that will resolve the issue for just weeks.

Reid, who will become the minority leader in the 114th Congress, told reporters he thinks the Democrats could have seen more accomplished in the lame-duck session.

“There’s a lot more we could and should have done,” Reid said, adding, “We did OK this time, but we’ve had better.”

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Heller Pledges Yucca Mountain Will Stay Dead Despite Leaving Energy Committee

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The Yucca Mountain fight continues as committee assignments for the 114th Congress raise questions about what’s next for the issue. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Sen. Dean Heller, R-Nev., pledged that a proposal to build a nuclear waste depository at Yucca Mountain would remain dead, even though he is stepping away from the Energy and Natural Resources Committee to join the Finance Committee.

“I don’t think it changes the dynamics,” Heller said of his new committee assignment for the 114th Congress.

The Nevada congressional delegation, led by outgoing Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, has been effective using every means available, including the power of the purse and regulatory agencies, to prevent the project from resurfacing in the state.

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Tax Extenders Vote a Bipartisan Affair

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Wyden was one of a bipartisan group opposing the tax extenders package. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

The final vote on the $41.6 billion tax extenders package was, like the cromnibus last week, a very bipartisan affair.

Handing out mostly corporate tax breaks and adding to the debt to do it has proven to be a popular thing for Congress. Democrats including President Barack Obama spent the better part of 2013 trying to get Republicans to agree to more revenue as part of a budget deal, but are now signing on to deficit expansion for the sake of tax breaks that will expire, again, in two weeks.

Usually, these tax breaks — which range from the R&D tax break to breaks for NASCAR, racehorse owners and wind farms — are touted as incentives — and indeed some senators called them that Tuesday. But it’s hard to retroactively incentivize anything — a point made on the Senate floor by outgoing Finance Chairman Ron Wyden, D-Ore., who voted no and said the tax bill didn’t even have the shelf life of a carton of eggs. Full story

Keystone XL and Energy Efficiency, Together Again?

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The Portman-Shaheen bill has been derailed by Senate dysfunction. (Chris Maddaloni/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

The first energy bill of the new year could feature a bit of a role reversal.

With Republican Sen. Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the incoming majority leader, saying the Keystone XL pipeline approval legislation will be the first item of business in the 114th Congress, lead GOP sponsor John Hoeven of North Dakota mooted the possible return of bipartisan energy efficiency legislation.

“If they want to, they can offer it,” Hoeven said of legislation Republican Rob Portman of Ohio and Democrat Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire tried repeatedly to move across the Senate floor. “As a matter of fact, I’ve had already had that conversation with them not once, but many times.”

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Durbin and Schumer Split Up

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Schumer and Durbin are moving out. (Douglas Graham/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

The Senate’s longstanding D.C. roommates have gone their separate ways.

Democratic Sens. Richard J. Durbin of Illinois and Charles E. Schumer of New York had long rented space in a Capitol Hill row house owned by Rep. George Miller.

The retirement of the California Democrat left the two Senate Democratic leaders with a problem.

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McConnell Puts Keystone First on the Agenda (Video)

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(Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

The incoming Senate majority leader is putting approval of the Keystone XL pipeline project first on his 2015 agenda.

Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., on Tuesday told reporters that in looking ahead to the new year, a bill sponsored by Republican John Hoeven of North Dakota would lead off the floor schedule. Full story

December 15, 2014

Kirk Backs Murthy, Defies NRA

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Kirk defied the NRA to help confirm a surgeon general. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Sen. Mark S. Kirk, R-Ill., defied the National Rifle Association to confirm Vivek Murthy as surgeon general.

The Murthy confirmation was delayed for months due to opposition by the NRA and most Republicans, primarily over his support for gun control measures. But Kirk’s vote helped put him over the top with a 51 to 43 vote Monday.

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