Roll Call: Latest News on Capitol Hill, Congress, Politics and Elections
November 28, 2014

November 28, 2014

Tom Harkin’s Reflecting, but Trying Not to Stare

harkin 187 111714 445x309 Tom Harkins Reflecting, but Trying Not to Stare

Harkin is interviewed by CQ Roll Call in his Capitol Hill office. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

At the end of an extended interview in his Senate office, Tom Harkin called out into the hallway, having neglected to show off a prized possession — his father’s Works Progress Administration card.

For the progressive Iowa Democrat, it’s the role of government policies like the WPA that have guided his career.

The Depression-era WPA was one of the progressive planks of Franklin D. Roosevelt, and the heartland Democrat is very much in the mold of the generation of those who followed FDR. But, Harkin has shown a knack, not unlike the late Sen. Edward M. Kennedy of Massachusetts, for working with Republicans when he needs to get a bill across the finish line.

Some of that, of course, depends on having a willing partner across the aisle, and on that front Harkin himself will say he’s been fortunate.

At a recent bill signing, the HELP Committee’s getting 21 measures to President Barack Obama’s desk won praise from the president himself for Harkin and GOP counterpart Lamar Alexander of Tennessee.

“Well, that’s because you and Lamar are some pretty productive legislators who actually have focused on getting stuff done,” Obama said of Harkin’s recent successes.

Two deals with senior colleagues that Harkin made early on really set the course for his Senate career.

Harkin, who opted to retire instead of seek a sixth Senate term, agreed to join what was then the Education and Labor Committee, after the liberal lion Kennedy offered to create a disability policy subcommittee and hand Harkin wide latitude. That helped lead to the signature Americans with Disabilities Act and the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. Those laws changed not only the way the public treated individuals with disabilities, but also Harkin said the way many viewed the world.

“The way I describe the ADA generation is that kids that were born after that — or in your time coming of age — that their expectations changed. In the old days, if you had a disability and you were a child … you just were told not to expect a heck of a lot. Barriers were there: educational barriers, work barriers, transportation barriers, attitudinal barriers, some of which still exist. But, you just had lower expectations,” Harkin said in an interview in his personal Senate office that included a reporter who was among the first beneficiaries of IDEA.

“Kids that grew up with [Individualized Education Programs] and with access and support services and things like that are now saying, ‘Wait a minute, I don’t want lowered expectations.’”

The bipartisan Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act, one of the HELP Committee’s big success stories this Congress, aims to improve on the transition from school to work for individuals with disabilities.

“We haven’t been preparing them to do that in the past,” Harkin said. “A lot of times the kids with IEPs, they get through, and they sort of just drop off the edge. They haven’t been given summer jobs, job coaching, internships. They haven’t been taken to colleges.” Full story

November 25, 2014

After Ferguson Riots, Durbin Calls Hearing on Civil Rights

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Protesters chant, “hands up, don’t shoot,” in front of the White House on Monday night following the announcement that Darren Wilson was not indicted in the killing of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

In the wake of renewed rioting in Ferguson, Mo., Sen. Richard J. Durbin, D-Ill., announced Tuesday that he intends to hold a hearing on the state of civil and human rights in the United States.

“Racial disparities persist at many stages of the criminal justice system. Many states have enacted voting laws making it harder for minority and other voters to cast their ballots,” Durbin said in a release announcing the hearing. “And this year’s events in Ferguson, Missouri have highlighted the continued need to reevaluate and reform police practices, including the militarization of state and local law enforcement. This hearing will explore how Congress and the Executive Branch can build on recent successes and address ongoing civil and human rights challenges.” Full story

Schumer: Health Care Distracted Democrats From the Middle Class

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(Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

Sen. Charles E. Schumer says Democrats need to have a realistic agenda for demonstrating the importance of government to middle class voters, citing a rather unlikely subject as detracting from that message: health care.

“The policy should be simple and easily explained — can it be grasped almost intuitively as something that will help middle-class families?” Schumer said. “Democratic priorities should be achievable. Yes — they must be easy to message, but they have to be a lot more than messaging bills.”

In recent years, Democrats have held no shortage of such votes in the Senate, on proposals they have no expectation of getting the 60 votes needed to overcome procedural hurdles, in part because of persistent Republican opposition.

The messaging chief for Senate Democrats also told an audience at the National Press Club that it was a mistake for Democrats on Capitol Hill and in the White House to prioritize the overhaul of the health care system the way they did when they controlled both chambers back in 2009 and 2010.

“After passing the stimulus, Democrats should have continued to propose middle class-oriented programs and built on the partial success of the stimulus, but unfortunately Democrats blew the opportunity the American people gave them. We took their mandate and put all of our focus on the wrong problem — health care reform,” Schumer said. “The plight of uninsured Americans and the hardships caused by unfair insurance company practices certainly needed to be addressed. But it wasn’t the change we were hired to make.” Full story

November 24, 2014

Ted Cruz Floats Joe Lieberman for Defense Secretary

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(Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Sen. Ted Cruz has an idea for a new Defense secretary that the incoming Senate Armed Services chairman would love.

The Texas Republican on Monday floated the name of former Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman, the independent Democrat from Connecticut, to replace Chuck Hagel at the Pentagon.

“We need a Secretary of Defense who is squarely focused on defending the national security interests of the United States, first and foremost, and especially preventing a bad deal over Iran’s nuclear weapons program that could do irreparable harm to us and our allies,” Cruz said in a statement.

Full story

Republicans Push for More Iran Sanctions as Talks are Extended

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Ayotte, McCain and Graham likely to pursue tighter sanctions on Iran. (Douglas Graham/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Monday’s seven-month extension of talks about the Iranian nuclear program make it very likely the Senate will vote on strengthening sanctions against Iran in the first part of 2015.

Sen. Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the Republican who will be majority leader next year, signaled that just two days before Election Day.

“I think what we ought to do if we can’t get an acceptable agreement with the Iranians is tighten the sanctions, and in fact we had a bill in the Senate to do that, which the current majority leader wouldn’t allow a vote on,” McConnell told reporters in Kentucky at the time. “Not to stop the talks, but to say at the end of the talks, if there’s no good outcome, then the Iranians would get tougher sanctions.”

Full story

Rand Paul Wants Senate Vote on Declaring War on ISIS

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Paul wants a Senate vote on ISIS. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Sen. Rand Paul has upped the ante in the debate over the role of Congress in the fight against ISIS.

The Kentucky Republican formally announced Monday he would be introducing a resolution to formally declare war against the terrorist group in Syria and Iraq, setting up the possibility of a contentious vote as part of a potential use of force authorization debate next year.

Full story

November 21, 2014

Politically Connected Ambassador Nominees to Get Floor Votes

When the Senate returns from Thanksgiving, the first pressing business will be confirming a pair of President Barack Obama’s nominees who might not stand a chance in a Republican-led Senate.

The Senate is set to vote on Dec. 1 to limit debate on the nominees to be ambassadors to Argentina and Hungary, both of whom were criticized early this year for not knowing much about the countries in question. Neither nominee is a career diplomat. They’re both major Obama campaign contributors.

Full story

Parents of ‘Dreamers’ Need Act of Congress, White House Says

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Immigration reform protesters with United We Dream erect a giant story book in front of the White House to illustrate the stories of immigrant families on July 28. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

President Barack Obama’s sweeping immigration action leaves millions still at risk of deportation, including one group activists had long hoped the president would protect: the parents of the “Dreamers” he granted relief to two years ago.

The White House’s lawyers concluded Obama didn’t have the authority to do so without Congress, a verdict that’s not sitting well with some of his own supporters.

“Today’s victory is tremendous, but to be real, it is incomplete. Millions of Dreamers have siblings who have U.S. citizenship or green cards so their parents will qualify for this new program — and hundreds of thousands more Dreamers will now be eligible for protection,” United We Dream Managing Director Cristina Jimenez said in a statement Thursday evening. “But too many of our parents, LGBTQ brothers and sisters and friends were left out. United We Dream doesn’t agree with that decision and we are determined to fight for their protection. Our community sticks together.”

As he headed to Las Vegas Friday along with Democratic lawmakers including Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada and Sen. Robert Menendez of New Jersey, he will face an audience that’s expected to include some of the parents of DACA recipients who will remain at some risk of deportation. Full story

By Niels Lesniewski Posted at 12:25 p.m.
Immigration

November 20, 2014

Senate Democrats Press McDonough on CIA Torture Report

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McDonough, right, was under pressure from Senate Democrats during a private meeting Thursday. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Democrats on the Senate Intelligence Committee pressed White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough on Thursday to allow pseudonyms to be released in a summary of a panel report on CIA interrogation abuses.

“The report would be a pseudo report if we didn’t allow the pseudonyms,” said Sen. Mark Udall, D-Colo., who is on the panel.

Udall’s comments came after Democrats met for more than three hours with McDonough. But the entire meeting was not spent on the topic of the report, Udall said.

Intelligence Chairwoman Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., and other Democrats on the panel, including Udall, have been negotiating with the White House on a redacted summary of the report, which they hope to release to the public.

“I asked the chief of staff to take another look at this for me with the president,” said Udall, who lost his re-election bid to Rep. Cory Gardner, R-Colo.

Full story

Senate’s 2015 Calendar Features Fuller Weeks, Fewer Breaks

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(Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

In addition to longer workweeks, it appears the Senate will be in session more frequently in 2015.

As expected, the Senate will kick off work in the 114th Congress on Jan. 6, and the chamber isn’t expected to take a full week break until Presidents Day. That’s according to a draft calendar obtained by CQ Roll Call that shows the Senate in recess the third week in February, for the two weeks around Easter Sunday (which falls on April 5), and the weeks of Memorial Day and the Fourth of July.

Full story

Reid: Obama Immigration Executive Action ‘Isn’t Anything New’ (Video)

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(CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Don’t expect a novel legal justification from the White House for President Barack Obama’s decision to provide unilateral deportation relief to the undocumented, said Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev.

When asked if he thinks the president’s move would survive a likely court challenge, Reid said, “In the secret bowels of the White House did [the president] and his staff come up with something unique and different? No.”

Reid argued that over the past 60 years every president has taken immigration-related executive action, so no new legal justification is needed. Full story

Durbin Says Omnibus in Progress, Warns Against Defense CR

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(Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

Appropriators appear to be making good progress on behind-the-scenes negotiations on a big omnibus bill to fund the government for the rest of the fiscal year.

That’s the word from Sen. Richard J. Durbin of Illinois, the No. 2 Democrat in the Senate who also happens to wield the gavel of the Appropriations subcommittee on Defense.

“I just finished a Defense Appropriation subcommittee joint meeting this morning. We’ve agreed on virtually everything, but four or five issues,” he said. “Those five issues are going upstairs, which is not unusual, to be decided at the full committee level. I hear that they’re going to meet [on] Dec. 1, Democrats and Republicans, House and Senate, at the highest level to resolve these outstanding issues. We’re moving forward on a good program to get an omnibus done.”

Full story

McCain, Corker Doubtful of White House’s ISIS Strategy, Intent for AUMF

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McCain and Corker are skeptical of the Obama administration’s intent for an AUMF. (Douglas Graham/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Leaving Wednesday’s closed briefing on the fight against the Islamic State, the terror group also known as ISIS or ISIL, Sen. John McCain said he doubted the Obama administration really wanted to have a new Authorization for Use of Military Force at all.

“They keep talking about the AUMF. They haven’t, they haven’t sent over anything. I’ve been involved in numerous of these crises where they send over a request for the authorization for the use of military force,” the Arizona Republican said. “You can’t believe they really want it if they don’t even send over a proposal.”

Full story

November 19, 2014

Grassley Says Obama’s Immigration Action Worse Than King George (Video)

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(Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

The next chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee said President Barack Obama’s expected executive actions would go beyond the dreams of even King George III.

As Democrats were gathering at the White House for a meeting with Obama ahead of the formal announcement of the immigration moves in a Thursday evening address to the nation, Sen. Charles E. Grassley, R-Iowa, was on the floor of the Senate speaking about a series of administration actions that Republicans have found objectionable, ranging from the use of recess appointments to the transfer of five Taliban prisoners out of the prison camp at Guantánamo Bay for the release of Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl.

“It is no exaggeration to say that the freedom of the American people is at stake. That’s what the framers believed,” Grassley said, before quoting from James Madison in Federalist 51.

Full story

Senate Republicans Up in 2016: No Shutdown Over Immigration

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Kirk wants no part of a government shutdown over immigration. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

The coming battle over immigration with the White House has Senate Republicans up for re-election in 2016 fearful of a possible shutdown showdown.

Indeed, many refuse to even entertain the possibility.

“There will be no shutdown,” said Sen. Mark S. Kirk, a Republican who will face voters in two years in President Barack Obama’s home state of Illinois. Full story

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