Roll Call: Latest News on Capitol Hill, Congress, Politics and Elections
September 3, 2015

September 2, 2015

Iran Deal Done: With Mikulski, Obama Has All the Votes He Needs

Mikulski may not get a chance to debate her proposal to have NSA nominees go through Senate confirmation. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

Mikulski’s announcement ensures legislative success for the Iran deal. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

A week before Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, and fellow GOP presidential hopeful Donald Trump plan to rally against it with conservative media personality Glenn Beck, the Iran deal is a done deal.

The only question now is whether President Barack Obama will have to veto a disapproval resolution against the P5+1 agreement at all.

Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski announced Wednesday she’s supporting the international agreement with Iran regarding its nuclear capabilities. In doing so, the Maryland Democrat gives the Obama administration a veto override-proof list of 34 Senate supporters, all from the Democratic caucus.

Full story

By Niels Lesniewski Posted at 10:09 a.m.
2016, Iran, Policy

Could Tobacco Carveout Kill TPP?

UNITED STATES - JULY 8: Sens. Thom Tillis, R-N.C., left, and Richard Burr, R-N.C., leave the Senate Policy luncheons in the Capitol, July 8, 2015. (Photo By Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

Sens. Thom Tillis, R-N.C., left, and Richard Burr, R-N.C., are among the senators who want to ensure protections for tobacco exports. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

The Trans-Pacific Partnership’s rocky road in Congress faces a fresh threat from tobacco-state senators.

A brief trip down memory lane: Trade Promotion Authority passed with 62 votes in June, paving the way for a simple-majority threshold for the 12-nation trade deal.

But to get there, TPA required legislative jujitsu packaged with other bills, complex vote sequences and a ping-pong with the House to draw enough votes.

TPA endured one Democratic filibuster. It dealt with a messy human trafficking provision as well as language combating currency manipulation. It sustained vociferous opposition from most Democrats and unions and Republican opposition to the relinquishment of Congressional power.

And despite all of that, it’s tobacco’s status as a significant cash crop in Kentucky that could snuff out TPP in the end.

Reuters reported the administration had been considering allowing tobacco to be carved out of the investor-state dispute settlement, which, among other things, would give tobacco companies little protection against stiff regulation by trade partners, like Australia’s ban on branded cigarette packs.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, along with Republican Sens. Richard M. Burr and Thom Tillis of North Carolina, have repeatedly protested even the vague notion of a provision targeting tobacco.

Both in person and through correspondence, McConnell has pressed U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman throughout the negotiations to ensure there is no provision targeting tobacco, even citing the crop’s role in “important biomedical research.”

“As you know, I am very optimistic about the potential for Kentucky’s manufacturing workers and farmers — including its thousands of tobacco growers — to benefit from new export opportunities facilitated by a completed TPP agreement,” McConnell wrote in a July 30 letter to Froman. “It is essential as you work to finalize the TPP, you allow Kentucky tobacco to realize the same economic benefits and export potential other U.S. agricultural commodities will enjoy with a successful agreement.”

Needless to say, not many things happen in the Senate if the majority leader doesn’t want them to happen, and he’s calling tobacco protections “essential.”

It’s unclear where Kentucky’s junior senator stands: Rand Paul, a Republican running for reelection as well as the GOP presidential nomination. His office did not respond to multiple requests for comment.

Burr, who sits on the Finance Committee, which includes trade in its jurisdiction, told CQ Roll Call he’d received assurances from Froman that tobacco would not be excluded from protections in the deal.

Burr, who took the strongest position out of the three senators, asked again from Froman for reassurance that tobacco would be treated differently and vowed to do everything possible to derail the trade legislation if tobacco isn’t protected.

“I was told it wouldn’t be in there, that I didn’t need to worry about it,” Burr told CQ Roll Call. “And that was before I cast a crucial vote on TPA, which changed the [vote threshold] from 60 to 51. I made a promise to him before that if it was in there I’d do everything in my power to kill the TPP. And I will.”

Tillis argued in a letter to Froman in early August that a tobacco carveout would set a dangerous precedent for future trade deals and could scare away would-be supporters of the deal.

“A number of my colleagues share my view that the TPP can be a net positive in the long run,” Tillis wrote. “I am confident, however, that the path toward ratification will be significantly endangered if the administration or one of our trading partners impose their biases by targeting specific industries for exclusion.”

A spokesperson for the U.S. Trade Representative wouldn’t speak directly to the carveout in a statement to CQ Roll Call, saying only that “We are working proactively to promote the interests of American farmers and preventing discrimination against them, while ensuring that the FDA and health authorities of other countries can implement tobacco regulations to protect public health.”

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September 1, 2015

Chris Coons Ready to Stump for Biden in Iowa

Coons was enthusiastic about the possibility of a Biden presidential bid. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

Coons was enthusiastic about the possibility of a Biden presidential bid. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

NEWARK, Del. — If Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr., decides to run for president in 2016, Sen. Chris Coons is ready to hit the campaign trail.

“I enthusiastically would support the vice president if he were to run for president. I volunteered for him in Iowa in 2008 and would be honored to do it again,” Coons told CQ Roll Call. “I think he is our nation’s strongest voice for the middle class, and our most seasoned and senior leader in foreign policy and national security.”

Full story

Iran Deal on the Verge of Senate Success (Updated) (Video)

(Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

(Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

Update 2:36 p.m. | NEWARK, Del. — The Democratic senator who holds the seat long occupied by Vice President Joseph R. Biden, Jr. has put the Obama administration on the verge of victory on the Iran deal.

Sen. Chris Coons announced on the campus of the University of Delaware Tuesday that he would provide the 33rd vote against a resolution of disapproval for the P5+1 nuclear agreement with Iran. That puts the agreement one vote short of the number needed to sustain a presidential veto.

Full story

By Niels Lesniewski Posted at 2:15 p.m.
Democrats, Iraq

August 31, 2015

McConnell Expects to Cut Budget Deal, Avert Shutdown (Video)

Immigration reform is dead in this Congress, per McConnell. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

McConnell expects government-funding talks with the administration will begin after Labor Day. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said Monday that funding the government is the top challenge facing him when he returns to the Capitol next week.

The Kentucky Republican said he would work with the White House to come up with budget levels to keep the government open past Sept. 30, conceding that President Barack Obama won’t sign a measure with a rider defunding Planned Parenthood.

Full story

Ted Cruz Praises Donald Trump, Holds Fire on Boehner

The Texas senator struck a different tone than his party's leader on Planned Parenthood. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

Cruz says he will continue to sing Trump’s praises. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Sen. Ted Cruz said next week’s rally outside the Capitol with Donald Trump will get more eyeballs and TV cameras with the fellow Republican presidential candidate in attendance.

“An awful lot of the Republican candidates for president have basically taken out a two-by-four and tried to smack Donald Trump and I have very consciously avoided doing that, and I’ve regularly sung his praises,” the Texas Republican said. “It’s a rally that I’m helping organize to oppose this catastrophic nuclear deal, which I think is the single biggest national security threat facing America.”

Full story

Canada Border Wall Idea Smacked by Rand Paul, Patrick Leahy

UNITED STATES - SEPTEMBER 18: Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., right, talks with Chairman Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., before Paul testified at a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing titled "Reevaluating the Effectiveness of Federal Mandatory Minimum Sentences." (Photo By Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

After Walker said a wall on the border with Canada is a “legitimate” idea to look into, Leahy and Paul torched him. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker may think that a wall along the U.S.-Canada border is a “legitimate” idea to look into, but two U.S. senators think it’s “dumb” and “terrible.”

Sens. Rand Paul and Patrick J. Leahy don’t always agree, but they are aligned on opposing a security wall along the northern border, with Paul, a Kentucky Republican, categorizing the comments as just the newest installment of oneupsmanship among GOP presidential hopefuls’ rhetoric on immigration.

Full story

August 28, 2015

Inviting Fight With China, Rubio Says Disputed Islands Belong to Japan

Rubio has been outlining his policy views in early primary and caucus states. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

Rubio has been outlining his policy views in early primary and caucus states. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

Sen. Marco Rubio said bluntly Friday the disputed Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea belong to Japan.

The Chinese government “has unilaterally declared an ‘air defense identification zone’ over international waters and the Senkaku Islands, which are the territory of our ally Japan. In the South China Sea, Beijing has dispatched ships and planes, moved oil rigs and even constructed artificial islands in an attempt to strengthen its position militarily,” the Republican presidential hopeful said during a broader speech in South Carolina about U.S.-China relations.

Full story

Tom Carper Brings Count of Iran Deal Supporters to 30

UNITED STATES - FEBRUARY 27: Sen. Tom Carper, D-Del., speaks during the Senate Democrats' news conference to urge Speaker Boehner bring the fully funded DHS bill up for a vote in the House on Friday, Feb. 27, 2015. (Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

Carper announced his Iran deal support in a Delaware newspaper. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)

And then there were 30.

Sen. Thomas R. Carper, D-Del., became the 30th member of the Senate Democratic caucus to endorse the Iran deal late Thursday night.

Carper made his endorsement of the international nuclear agreement with Iran about nuclear development in an opinion piece prepared for publication Friday in The News Journal of Delaware.

Full story

August 27, 2015

Senator Criticizes ‘Systemic Issues’ in State Dept. Email Management

State Department Email

Perdue is critical of “systemic issues” in the State Department’s handling of email. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

One of the State Department’s congressional overseers is expressing fresh concerns about federal data security after this week’s inspector general report about the use of private email at the embassy in Japan.

“Recent data breaches of U.S. cyber networks should prompt all government officials to strengthen communication security,” Sen. David Perdue said in a statement to CQ Roll Call. “This Inspector General report indicates systemic issues across the State Department, specifically in email communications.”

Full story

Ted Cruz Invites Donald Trump to Anti-Iran Deal Rally on Capitol Grounds (Updated)

donald trump

Trump is leading other Republican contenders in the polls. (Al Drago/CQ Roll Call)

Updated 11:15 p.m. | Republican Sen. Ted Cruz has invited fellow presidential candidate Donald Trump to participate in a rally outside the Capitol against the international nuclear agreement with Iran.

The event is scheduled for Sept. 9, on the Capitol’s West Lawn, according to a statement from Jenny Beth Martin of the Tea Party Patriots. Martin’s organization is one of the groups Cruz’s campaign identified ad behind the event.

Trump, the businessman and reality TV star currently leading GOP polls, has accepted the invite to the event with the Texas Republican, having made reference to it while speaking Thursday in Greenville, S.C.

Full story

By Niels Lesniewski Posted at 2:58 p.m.
2016, Iran, Ted Cruz

August 26, 2015

Rubio: GOP Needs 60 Votes to Repeal Obamacare

Rubio held a town hall Wednesday in Londonderry. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

Rubio held a town hall Wednesday in Londonderry. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

Sen. Marco Rubio sounds rather bearish on repealing Obamacare anytime soon, even if he or another Republican becomes president.

Outlining his economic and foreign policy visions at a town hall meeting in Londonderry, N.H., on Wednesday, the Floridian said upending the 2010 health care overhaul law would take the support of a filibuster-proof supermajority of 60 senators.

Full story

As Prospects of Derailing Iran Deal Dim, Corker Eyes Next Step

(Al Drago/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Corker says there will be more legislation after the Iran disapproval vote. (Al Drago/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Senate Foreign Relations Chairman Bob Corker is home in Tennessee, but he said Wednesday he’s been on the phone a lot about Iran — particularly with moderate Democrats.

The Republican said his role is to answer questions and foster debate, while making the case against the P 5+1 agreement to restrict the Islamic republic’s nuclear program. But, with the number of Democratic caucus members backing the Iran deal at 29 and expected to increase, Corker’s also looking ahead to other legislation in response.

Full story

Bernie Sanders Vs. the Media

Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders speaks during a town meeting at the White Mountain Chalet in Berlin, N.H., on Monday, Aug. 24, 2015. (Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

Democratic presidential candidate Sanders speaks during a town meeting Monday at the White Mountain Chalet in Berlin, N.H. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

COLUMBIA, S.C. — On tour here last week, Bernard Sanders, the unlikeliest of presidential candidate rock stars, played all his populist hits: “income inequality,” “Wall Street reform,” and “tax the rich.” Then the Vermont senator threw in his unique cover of an old campaign trail classic: “hatin’ on the media.”

As an estimated 2,700 fervent Sanders supporters looked on in a packed, humid South Carolina conference center, the 2016 Democratic hopeful talked — between screams of “I love you Bernie!” — about income inequality, health care, the untaxed rich, the wealthy political donor class, racial inequality, and yes, the media.

“The American people are sick and tired of establishment economics, they are sick and tired of establishment politics, and they are sick and tired of the establishment media,” Sanders said to cheers in both Columbia and Greenville.

With the media polling remarkably low in trustworthiness, it’s not surprising or even uncommon for a candidate to pick the “establishment” media as a foe.

Sanders made news earlier last week for bucking reporters’ questions in Iowa about Democratic front-runner Hillary Rodham Clinton (“That’s the sport you guys like.”) and whether Sanders is a career politician, according to The New York Times.

In Sanders’ defense, sideshow stories permeate public discourse, such as the PPP poll showing an imaginary candidate named Deez Nuts polling at 9 percent in North Carolina, highlighting the trend the Sanders was decrying.

“Much of the corporate media will talk about everything else in the world except the issues facing ordinary Americans,” Sanders said.

Sanders railed against the media for not covering what cuts were made in the Republican-passed federal budget, although even a cursory search on sequestration would suggest otherwise.

Although there was an on-camera exclusive with C-SPAN following the gathering, Sanders did not make himself available to other reporters at either event.


Bernie Sanders: Proud non-Democrat

Takoma Park Feels the Bern

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Sudanese Refugee Is Not Your Average Summer Intern

UNITED STATES - August 11: Mohy Omer, a Sudanese intern for the office of Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, D-S.D., poses for a portrait in the Hart Senate Office Building on Capitol Hill, in Washington on Tuesday, August 11, 2015. Omer relocated to Fargo, S.D. in 2009 after growing up in Sudan. (Photo By Al Drago/CQ Roll Call)

Omer poses for a portrait in the Hart Senate Office Building on Capitol Hill on Aug. 11. (Al Drago/CQ Roll Call)

An “awesome” hug with the vice president, seeing the president at Nationals Park, attending a Champions of Change event at the White House — it was all packed into a Senate internship this summer and came just a few months after Mohy Omer, a refugee from Sudan, had become a U.S. citizen.

Now 27, Omer never dreamed about living in America, let alone the nation’s capital. He was placed in Fargo, N.D., in 2009 after fleeing his war-torn country. He didn’t know a soul or speak a lick of English. Full story

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