Roll Call: Latest News on Capitol Hill, Congress, Politics and Elections
July 23, 2014

July 22, 2014

Mikulski Set to Unveil Emergency Spending for Immigration Crisis (Video)

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(Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Senate Appropriations Chairwoman Barbara A. Mikulski plans to introduce a $3.57 billion emergency supplemental spending package on Wednesday.

The Maryland Democrat’s emergency bill primarily deals with the crisis of unaccompanied migrant children, but it also would provide funding for fighting wildfires and make a payment to Israel for the Iron Dome missile defense system. A Senate Democratic aide said the package is expected to reach the Senate floor early next week, which would make it one of many pieces of a pre-recess push.

Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., had deferred to Mikulski in regards to announcing the plan earlier Tuesday.

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Senate Needs ‘Magic’ to Complete Pre-Recess Agenda (Video)

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(Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

The Senate might just have too much to do before departing for August recess.

But, it is a chamber where “magic” all-too-often occurs on Thursday evenings, and senators might need it come July 31. There’s no shortage of big ticket items on the legislative agenda of Majority Leader Harry Reid, including funding for the crisis involving unaccompanied migrant children, stopgap highway funding and the ongoing issues at the Department of Veterans Affairs.

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Reid: ‘Absurd’ Obamacare Decision Vindicates ‘Nuclear Option’ (Video)

Senate Democrats are hoping their use of the “nuclear option” to end a Republican blockade of circuit court nominees last year will help overturn a 2-1 appeals court ruling with the potential to gut Obamacare tax subsidies for millions.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., blasted the court’s ruling that Congress only wanted to provide tax subsidies in states with their own exchanges an “absurd” move by “two activist Republican judges.”

The administration plans to appeal the ruling to the full D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals, which now has more Democrat-appointed judges after the nuclear option blew up GOP attempts to filibuster Obama’s nominees. Full story

July 21, 2014

Federal Judge Tosses Ron Johnson’s Obamacare Lawsuit

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(Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

A federal judge based in Green Bay has tossed a Sen. Ron Johnson’s Obamacare lawsuit targeting the health benefits for members of Congress and their staff.

The court dismissed the lawsuit, which contended the Obama administration decision to grant employer contributions for health plans purchased through the District of Columbia’s Obamacare health exchange ran afoul of the law.

Chief Judge William C. Griesbach of the Eastern District of Wisconsin ruled that Johnson and fellow plaintiff Brooke Ericson lacked standing, siding with the argument made by the government’s lawyers.

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Nomination Backlog Frustrates Administration, Democrats as August Looms

A pileup of nominations — particularly for scores of would-be U.S. ambassadors — has the Obama administration pushing hard for Senate action ahead of the August recess, while senators want to get home to campaign before the midterms.

There are 224 executive and 29 judicial nominations awaiting Senate action, according to the White House, including many whose lives have been on hold for a year or more. The Senate last year used the “nuclear option” to change the rules so a simple majority can confirm most nominations — and that move has shrunk the judicial backlog.

But a backlog has built up in executive branch nominees, including 56 ambassadors.

Last week, Secretary of State John Kerry called Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., to voice concern over the pileup, and a State Department spokesman said the former Massachusetts senator was expected to speak by phone with Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., on Monday while traveling in the Middle East.

“We hope the Senate will come to agreement to confirm nominees before heading into recess,” Assistant Secretary Doug Frantz said in a statement Monday. ”There is plenty of time remaining in July to do so, particularly if they can reach an agreement to approve the career nominees in a block as Secretary Kerry has proposed.”

“We are redoubling our efforts on ambassadors,” said a senior Senate Democratic aide. But that doesn’t necessarily mean Democrats are about to threaten the August break to confirm them.

“These ambassadors are America’s front lines, fighting to defend our interests abroad — our security interests, our national interests, and our economic interests,” Reid said last week. ”Right now, there are gaping holes in our nation’s front lines. … A quarter of all American embassies are without an ambassador.”

After the rules change, Republicans retaliated by slow-walking numerous nominees; the rules change allowed a simple majority to advance nominees but kept in place time limits that allow Republicans to force Democrats to burn days of floor time to get to a final vote.

“Some Senate observers say that Republicans are stalling these nominations as payback for the rules changes instituted by the Senate,” Reid said. “Let me see if I can wrap my head around this — Republicans are stalling executive nominees vital to our national security to get back at Democrats? To get back at me? Stalling these nominees is jeopardizing America’s interests abroad. It is damaging our nation’s role in global affairs. It is damaging our national security. Is this conjured-up political retribution worth harming the U.S.?”

Republicans say Democrats only have themselves to blame.

“Their complaint assumes there should be no consequences for Majority Leader Reid breaking the rules of the Senate to change the rules on the processing of nominations,” the Senate Republican Policy Committee wrote in an issue brief. “The consequences of that act were predictable. Senator Obama predicted the consequences himself when a rules change was contemplated in 2005, saying, ‘If they choose to change the rules and put an end to democratic debate, then the fighting, the bitterness, and the gridlock will only get worse.’”

The nominations backlog in the ambassadorial ranks has been a recurring topic of discussion at the regular State Department press briefings in recent weeks.

State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki likened the Kerry proposal to accelerate career appointees to the way the Senate treats military promotions.

“And just to not to put too fine a point on it, obviously for America to continue to play a strong role in the world, we need equal treatment for diplomats, we need to have ambassadors and our representatives on the front lines in these countries around the world,” she said on July 9.

Asked if the nuclear option has contributed to the backlog, Psaki dismissed the contention.

“There has been a logjam in the Senate on the Senate floor about nominations and legislation long before … Majority Leader Reid moved forward with the nuclear option several months ago. That was put in place because there was a complete deadlock on getting anything done in the Senate at all,” she said.

Democrats have also highlighted delays of top veterans’ officials — some waiting more than a year for confirmation even as the crisis at the Department of Veterans Affairs unfolded.

Numerous other would-be officials are awaiting their fate. If they don’t get confirmation before the August recess, they’ll be waiting months longer for confirmation — or be stalled forever — given that the Senate will have a limited schedule before the November elections and faces a lame-duck session where floor time will be at a premium.

At some point, Senate Democrats could deploy the nuclear option again to cut down on what the Senate aide calls the “slow-motion temper tantrum.”

At the beginning of this Congress in January 2013, the chamber adopted a bipartisan agreement that reduced the post-cloture debate time for certain nominations. That agreement will expire at the end of the year.

If they manage to maintain the majority, Democrats would have to either negotiate time rules with Republicans or use the nuclear option again.

Given the mounting frustrations, “If it comes to a head, the caucus will be more supportive,” the aide predicted.

Correction 6:42 p.m.

An earlier version of this post misattributed the quote from the Republican Policy Committee.

 

Reid Predicts Veterans’ Health Bill Will Fall, Fears Gridlock on Border Supplemental (Video)

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid on Monday predicted Congress would fail to pass a fix for the veterans’ health crisis  — and worried the same could happen with the border supplemental to address the child migrant crisis.

“We had a big show here, not long ago, where we provided $35 billion to help veterans. We’ve spent trillions of dollars in two wars, unpaid-for by the way. That’s what President [George W.] Bush wanted, and that’s what he got,” the Nevada Democrat said in a floor speech.

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July 18, 2014

Mark Kirk Says Obama Iran Policy is Path to Nuclear War (Video)

kirk011 061214 445x295 Mark Kirk Says Obama Iran Policy is Path to Nuclear War (Video)

(Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Sen. Mark S. Kirk said in a jarring video circulated late Friday that President Barack Obama’s Iran policy is leading to nuclear war.

The video, posted on Youtube and available through the Illinois Republican’s official website, features a background of a “60 Minutes”-style ticking clock and highlights news reports about the state of the negotiations between the international community and Iran on nuclear programs.

“The administration policy is the quickest policy that leads to war, nuclear war. That is a horrible fate to condemn American children to witness,” Kirk said in the video.

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McCain: United States ‘Also Responsible’ for Circumstances Leading to MH17 Crash in Ukraine (Audio)

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McCain (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Sen. John McCain said Friday that the tragic shoot-down of Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17 might never have happened if the United States had armed Ukrainian forces battling against Russian-backed separatists.

The Arizona Republican also said there’s no reason to wait for an international investigation of the site of the crash in eastern Ukraine.

McCain pinned the blame on Russian President Vladimir Putin, but said the U.S. does have some responsibility for not arming the Ukrainians in their fight against separatists and other Russian elements.

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July 17, 2014

Senate Set to Confirm Ambassador to Possible Malaysia Airlines MH17 Crash Investigator (Video) (Updated)

Updated 6:59 p.m. | The Senate is set to confirm a new U.S. ambassador to an international body that’s been responsible for investigating airplane crashes such as Malaysia Airlines MH17.

Roll Call reported on the vacancy earlier Thursday, and now the Senate has reached an agreement for a Monday evening vote on confirmation.

That’s as the crash of the Malaysia Airlines flight in Eastern Ukraine reported to have had Americans on board may require an independent investigation. As reported by Roll Call’s Five by Five, U.N. International Civil Aviation Organization, which investigated the 1983 shoot-down of a Korean Air Lines flight, has a nominee awaiting Senate confirmation.

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Putin Should Pay if Malaysia Airlines Jet Was Shot Down, McCain Says (Video)

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(Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

If it’s determined that Ukrainian separatists shot down the Malaysia Airlines plane that crashed in Eastern Ukraine Thursday, Russian President Vladimir Putin should face consequences, Sen. John McCain said.

The Arizona Republican said it’s too early to know exactly what happened to the plane that reportedly crashed near the Russian border.

“It’s an outrageous and incredible act of terrorism that people [should] be held responsible and not only be people directly responsible, but indirectly,” McCain said when asked about reports the plane was shot down. “And if these are … separatists, which are also Russian, Vladimir Putin should be paying a heavy price. But I am not concluding yet that until we find out all the information.”

Sen. Saxby Chambliss, R-Ga., the ranking member of the Intelligence Committee, said he expected a briefing Thursday.

President Barack Obama announced Wednesday new sanctions targeting Russian businesses in retaliation for Putin’s actions on Ukraine.

July 16, 2014

Durbin Wants Defense Spending Bill on the Floor, but Isn’t Optimistic

durbin elshami 294 093013 445x296 Durbin Wants Defense Spending Bill on the Floor, but Isnt Optimistic

(Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Senate Majority Whip Richard J. Durbin would not concede that the only way forward for fiscal 2015 appropriations is a continuing resolution, but he wasn’t very optimistic.

Asked if the regular process of handling bills one at a time was dead, the Illinois Democrat said ”I hope not, but it really looks tough.”

Durbin’s comments come a day ahead of a scheduled full committee markup of the fiscal 2015 defense spending bill. In addition to his leadership role, Durbin serves as chairman of the Defense subcommittee, which considered the measure on Tuesday.

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Democratic Leaders Plan to Bypass Wyden on Internet Sales Tax Combo Bill (Video)

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Durbin wants states to be able to collect sales taxes on online transactions for out-of-state purchases. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Senate Democratic leaders plan to do an end run around Senate Finance Chairman Ron Wyden and combine House-passed legislation extending a moratorium on taxing Internet access with a Senate-passed proposal to require online retailers to collect sales tax.

“I think it’s fair to say the two are going to be together,” Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., told reporters Wednesday.

The Internet Tax Fairness Act passed the House Tuesday by a voice vote. The Marketplace Fairness Act passed the Senate last year, shepherded by Majority Whip Richard J. Durbin, D-Ill., and Sen. Michael B. Enzi, R-Wyo.

“There is a deadline, Nov. 1,” Durbin said. “The Internet Tax Freedom Act would expire. States and localities would be able to tax the Internet, which is something none of us want to see; I shouldn’t say none of us, most of us don’t want to see that happen.

“So now we have suggested to the sponsors and supporters of that measure that if they join it with Marketplace Fairness that we have might have a great package to get done on time,” Durbin continued. Full story

Reid Doubts Unemployment Extension Will Come Up in Highway Bill Debate

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(Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said he would work as quickly as possible to advance a highway funding patch, but an unemployment extension isn’t likely to get a chance to hitchhike on it.

“The highway bill has to move forward, and I’m going to do everything I can to expedite it as much as I can, quickly,” the Nevada Democrat told reporters.

He signaled that he did not think extraneous items would be attached to the must-pass bill, regardless of which version advances. ”I doubt it” Reid said when asked if an unemployment insurance extension would be a piece of the Senate’s highway bill debate.

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Birth Control Legislation Stalls in Senate

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Udall, right, is a co-sponsor of the bill. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

Senators blocked legislation Wednesday that would have required Hobby Lobby and other private employers with religious interests to pay for birth control.

The Senate rejected, by a 56-43 vote, the first procedural motion to advance the bill. Sixty votes were needed to limit debate on the motion to proceed. Republican members Susan Collins of Maine, Mark S. Kirk of Illinois and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska voted with nearly all Democrats in favor of cloture.

Before the vote closed, Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., switched his vote for procedural reasons. Full story

By Sarah Chacko Posted at 2:36 p.m.
Uncategorized

Ronnie White Reaches Federal Bench — 17 Years Later (Video)

Roughly 17 years after first being nominated, Ronnie L. White is finally on his way to becoming a federal judge in Missouri.

The Senate confirmed White, 53-44, to a seat in the Eastern District of Missouri after limiting debate earlier in the day with 54 affirmative votes, short of the 60 that used to be required for cloture before Democrats used the “nuclear option” in 2013 to effectively change the rules.

White’s nomination during the Clinton administration eventually fell on a party-line vote in 1999, 45-54. Republicans had the majority in the Senate at that time. Ahead of Wednesday’s action, Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., called the original vote “a grievous error.”

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