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

August 18, 2014

Jim Jeffords, Veteran of Three Decades in Congress, Dead at 80

Jeffords3TW092600 445x291 Jim Jeffords, Veteran of Three Decades in Congress, Dead at 80

Jeffords served more than three decades in Congress. (CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Former Sen. Jim Jeffords of Vermont, a longtime Republican who flipped control of the Senate to the Democrats after switching parties in 2001, has died.

Jeffords, who had been in declining health, was 80. The Burlington Free Press first reported his death.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said he was sad to hear of Jeffords’ passing and called him a man of conscience.

“Throughout Jim’s time in the Senate he left an important mark on the history of the institution,” Reid said. “He was a strong supporter of helping people with disabilities and always fought for the underdog. Jim was a model of a great legislator who avoided partisan politics and fought for what was best for the people of Vermont. In 2001 he changed the makeup of the Senate by switching from a Republican to an Independent and caucusing with the Democrats. History will remember Senator Jeffords as a courageous man who listened to his conscience, and I will always respect him for doing so.”

Sen. Patrick J. Leahy, D-Vt., also lauded Jeffords’ career.

“He was a partner in our work for Vermont, and he was a friend,” Leahy said in release. “He was a Vermonter through and through, drawn to political life to make a difference for our state and nation. Part of his legacy will also stand as an enduring chapter of the Senate’s history.”

Sen. Bernard Sanders, I-Vt., who won the election to replace Jefford after he retired in 2006, praised his demeanor and his dedication to the state.

“Jane and I join all Vermonters in sending condolences to the family of Jim Jeffords,” Sanders said in a statement. “Jim was one of the most popular elected officials in the modern history of the state — serving at the local, state and federal levels. Vermonters admired him because of his low-key and down-to-earth qualities, and because of his obvious and strong love of the state and the Vermont way of life. He was an effective champion of education, disability rights, the environment and the arts — and millions of Americans have benefited from his efforts.”

Sanders acknowledged Jeffords’ strength when he changed the Senate in 2001 and became an independent. “He displayed enormous courage by leaving a party that, he often said, had left him because of its dramatic move to the right,” Sanders said. “Jim was a friend and he will be sorely missed.”

Rep. Peter Welch, D-Vt., said that Jeffords and his wife Liz Daley, who died in 2007 of ovarian cancer, were mentors during his early days as the state’s at-large House member.

“While Jim would certainly wave away the notion, he was indeed a legend in Vermont and the nation,” Welch said in a release. “With characteristic decency, humility and civility, and a dogged persistence, he made his mark in Congress.”

“Millions of children with disabilities are better off today because he lead the charge for their equal access to education,” Welch said. “Americans are breathing cleaner air and drinking cleaner water because of his fierce advocacy for the environment and clean energy. And budding artists across the nation receive the boost of his encouragement every year thanks to his legacy as the founder of the annual Congressional Arts Competition.”

“And, in 2001, the world saw what his fellow Vermonters already knew: Jim Jeffords, above all, had the courage of his convictions,” Welch said.

Jeffords endorsed Welch in his 2006 campaign over GOP candidate Martha Rainville.

Education was a legislative passion for Jeffords and Republican leaders decision not to include a school funding provision in a $1.6 trillion tax cut bill led him down the path to renouncing his party affiliation.

At the time of his decision to become an independent who would caucus with Democrats, the Senate was split 50-50 with Vice President Dick Cheney the deciding vote giving Republicans control of the chamber.

Following Jeffords’ switch, the Democrats controlled the chamber, 51-49. Until 2001 he identified as a Republican his entire political career, including 14 years in the House of Representatives and all but the last six years of the 18 years he spent in the Senate.

“It was a unique time in history,” Jeffords once recalled. “It was the first time you had a situation of a 50-50 Senate. That opened up an opportunity for one individual, myself or any other Republicans that wanted to, within the rules, to change the whole thing. And then I got to thinking. … I said, ‘If you don’t do it, you’re going to be to blame for everything that happens from now on — Supreme Court appointments — all of that. Because you had the power to make that change, to stop the abuse of power.’ So that’s when I decided I had to do it.”

August 15, 2014

Senate Will Review Militarization of Police in Defense Bill, Levin Says

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(Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

The chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee will look into the program that provides Pentagon surplus to local police before the full Senate considers the next defense authorization.

The Armed Services panel has already approved the fiscal 2015 defense programs bill for Senate floor consideration, and staff for Chairman Carl Levin, D-Mich., and ranking member James M. Inhofe, R-Okla., are working over the August recess to try and develop a defined universal set of amendments to set up for floor consideration.

“Congress established this program out of real concern that local law enforcement agencies were literally outgunned by drug criminals. We intended this equipment to keep police officers and their communities safe from heavily armed drug gangs and terrorist incidents,” Levin said in a statement Friday. “Before the defense authorization bill comes to the Senate floor, we will review this program to determine if equipment provided by the Defense Department is being used as intended.”

Full story

By Niels Lesniewski Posted at 3:19 p.m.
Policy

August 14, 2014

Booker Seeks DOJ Probe of Journalist Arrests in Ferguson

Sen. Cory Booker wants the Justice Department to specifically investigate the arrests and detentions of journalists and protesters Wednesday evening in Ferguson, Mo.

In a letter  to Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr., the New Jersey Democrat joined calls for additional scrutiny of the actions of St. Louis County police during Wednesday’s evening protests.

“I respectfully request that the Department of Justice expand its probe to include a review of unnecessary infringement of the protected rights to peacefully protest and the right of a free press,” Booker wrote in his letter. “I am troubled by reports that two law-abiding journalists, Ryan Reilly of the Huffington Post and Wesley Lowery of the Washington Post, were arrested and detained while in Ferguson investigating the protests.”

Full story

By Niels Lesniewski Posted at 6:48 p.m.
Policy

In Wake of Ferguson, New Focus on Civil Rights, Militarized Cops

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Ferguson could convince Reid to resurrect nomination of an Obama assistant attorney general nominee. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

The nation’s eyes were riveted on the searing images from Ferguson, Mo., Thursday, but the violent protests in that small St. Louis suburb have also unexpectedly pushed two policy debates closer to the front burner in Washington: Civil rights and the militarization of police.

President Barack Obama called for restraint from both police and protesters, who have clashed since the Aug. 9 police shooting of Michael Brown, an unarmed 18-year-old black man.

Civil rights leaders have cited Ferguson as evidence of a need for a renewed focus on the part of Obama and Congress on addressing racial inequality, while others have seized on the use of military tactics and weaponry by police as a issue that Washington must tackle.

A senior Senate Democratic aide was deferential to the White House on strategies for possible legislative actions in the wake of Ferguson, but Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, a former police officer, issued a statement signaling the Senate would be paying attention.

Full story

50 Senators Call for Moratorium on USPS Facility Closures (Updated)

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Baldwin joined Sanders and Tester in calling on the moratorium. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Updated: 5:05 p.m. | A bipartisan group of 50 senators urged appropriators Thursday to include a provision in year-end, catchall spending legislation that would prevent the U.S. Post Office from closing more mail-processing facilities in the next fiscal year.

“This one-year moratorium will give Congress the time it needs to enact the comprehensive postal reforms that are necessary for the Postal Service to function effectively into the future,” the group said in a letter to Appropriations Committee Chairman Barbara A. Mikulski, D-Md., and ranking member Sen. Richard C. Shelby, R-Ala.

The letter — circulated by Sen. Bernard Sanders, I-Vt., Sen. Tammy Baldwin, D-Wis., and Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont. — was also sent to Sen. Tom Udall, D-N.M., chairman of the Financial Services Appropriations Subcommittee, which has jurisdiction over the post office, and the panel’s ranking member Sen. Mike Johanns, R-Neb.

While Congress doesn’t provide funding for the post service, it does oversee the agency. Full story

August 13, 2014

Rand Paul Wants Obama to Seek Approval for Extended Iraq Effort (Video)

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(Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Sen. Rand Paul has joined the calls for President Barack Obama to seek congressional approval for an extended military campaign to fight Islamic State forces in Iraq.

Full story

August 12, 2014

Tim Kaine: Obama Needs Congress to OK Iraq Air Strikes

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Kaine says the president needs congressional authorization for air strikes. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Democratic Sen. Tim Kaine wants President Barack Obama to seek new approval from Congress for the current bombing campaign in Iraq.

“I support providing humanitarian relief to Iraqi civilians and measures to protect American personnel, but I am concerned about the timeline and scope of our renewed military efforts in Iraq,” the Virginia Democrat said in a statement. “Since the Administration has conceded that the 2002 Iraq Authorization for Use of Military Force is obsolete and should be repealed, it is now up to the Administration to receive Congressional authorization for the current air campaign against IS. This is especially the case since the President has indicated that our renewed military engagement in Iraq could be a long-term project.”

Full story

By Niels Lesniewski Posted at 5:44 p.m.
Democrats, Iraq

Why Did DEA Pay an Amtrak Employee for Passenger Records?

dw051122002 445x289 Why Did DEA Pay an Amtrak Employee for Passenger Records?

Report shows DEA paid almost $1 million for Amtrak passenger records. (Scott J. Ferrell/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

A bizarre revelation contained in a routine Amtrak inspector general report has caught the attention of the top Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Sen. Charles E. Grassley, R-Iowa, is pressing the Drug Enforcement Administration about why the agency paid $854, 460 over the course of almost two decades to an Amtrak employee to get passenger name record (PNR) information. As a member of the joint drug enforcement task force, the Amtrak Police Department should have been able to give information about passengers to DEA upon request.

Full story

By Niels Lesniewski Posted at 1:21 p.m.
Policy

August 11, 2014

Chuck Schumer’s FitBit Privacy Warning (Video)

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Schumer is concerned about privacy and FitBit step trackers. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Sen. Charles E. Schumer’s newest privacy concern is about the popular FitBit.

The devices, which track steps and help users monitor other health-related information, are a potential privacy nightmare to the No. 3 Democrat in the Senate.

The New Yorker took his Sunday news conference routine to Central Park, calling on the Federal Trade Commission to enhance privacy rules by requiring a mandatory “opt-out” option for the sale of the data. Newsday said Schumer’s appearance came with joggers passing through the background.

Full story

Mikulski Plots One More Push at Omnibus

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Mikulski details her plans about transportation funding issues at Baltimore’s Penn Station. (Niels Lesniewski/CQ Roll Call)

BALTIMORE, Md. — When the Senate returns next month, the chamber’s top appropriator is planning one more push at an omnibus, even if it’s a serious long shot.

Speaking at an event to laud the enactment of a stopgap measure to provide about $11 billion to replenish the Highway Trust Fund and avert construction layoffs, Appropriations Chairwoman Barbara A. Mikulski, D-Md., outlined an effort to use the fiscal 2015 Military Construction-VA spending bill as the vehicle for a catchall package, rather than a continuing resolution.

RollCall On the Road Logo300x300 Mikulski Plots One More Push at Omnibus“When we come back in September, I’m going to make another effort to get us to an omnibus. I believe, now that we’ve passed the groundbreaking bill to look out for veterans’ health care, that’s a long range bill, but right now we have money for fiscal ’15 that would enable us to move VA medical care,” Mikulski said at Baltimore’s Penn Station. “And that would be the little engine that could that would help me move to an omnibus.”

Full story

August 8, 2014

Feinstein Warns of Risk of ISIL Attack on America, Says Must Be Confronted

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(Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Senate Intelligence Chairwoman Dianne Feinstein warned Friday of the risk that the insurgent group ISIL could be preparing fighters to attack American and European targets.

“It has become clear that ISIL is recruiting fighters in Western countries, training them to fight its battles in the Middle East and possibly returning them to European and American cities to attack us in our backyard,” the California Democrat said in a statement backing military action authorized by President Barack Obama. “We simply cannot allow this to happen.”

Full story

Senators Watching as Kerry Visits Myanmar

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McConnell and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, met with Suu Kyi during a 2012 visit to the Capitol. (Chris Maddaloni/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

When Secretary of State John Kerry arrives in Myanmar Saturday to meet with government officials there along with ASEAN Regional Forum and other meetings, the Senate will be watching.

The week before the chamber left for August recess, Minority Leader Mitch McConnell provided one of his periodic updates on the current political climate in the country, formerly known as Burma. The Kentucky Republican has long been one of the Senate’s leading voices, along with Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California, against a repressive military junta that long ruled the country with an iron fist.

Recent democratic changes have led to easing of U.S. economic sanctions against the country, but McConnell had a warning for the country’s rulers that more must be done. In a July 24 floor speech, he cited specifically a constitutional provision that has the effect of barring Nobel laureate and pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi from the presidency.

Full story

August 7, 2014

Cuts to National Guard Motorsports Sponsorships Draw Mixed Reviews

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Earnhardt Jr., in victory lane following Sunday’s GoBowling.com 400 at Pocono Raceway (Jerry Markland/Getty Images)

Lawmakers are predictably split on the National Guard’s announcement it will be slashing motor sports sponsorships — just days after a car sporting the Guard’s livery won a major NASCAR race.

Sen. Claire McCaskill was among those who lauded the news.

“I’m a NASCAR fan, and I love the National Guard — but spending tens of millions of taxpayer dollars on a recruitment program that signed up zero recruits, and that has been abandoned by other service branches as ineffective, just makes no sense,” the Missouri Democrat said in a statement.

Full story

August 5, 2014

Ron Johnson Appealing Obamacare Ruling, Will ‘Exhaust Every Legal Recourse’

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(Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Sen. Ron Johnson isn’t giving up his legal fight to toss health benefits for members of Congress and their staff participating in Obamacare.

The Wisconsin Republican formally notified a federal court Monday of his intent to appeal a ruling that he doesn’t have standing to sue the Obama administration over health benefits for members and staff.

In court documents filed Monday in the Eastern District of Wisconsin, Johnson made official what he had announced in an Aug. 2 opinion piece for the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel. In that piece, he refers to District Judge William C. Greisbach’s opinion against him on the standing question as part of his motivation for continuing the legal challenge to the Office of Personnel Management’s decision that members and staff accessing health insurance through the District of Columbia exchange can continue to get an employer contribution.
Full story

Feinstein Withholds Report on CIA Torture, Writes Letter to Obama

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Brennan and Feinstein (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Senate Intelligence Chairwoman Dianne Feinstein isn’t happy with the redactions being demanded by the administration to her committee’s report on torture by the CIA, and she wants the president to intervene.

The California Democrat said she will seek a series of changes to mitigate redactions to the report’s summary made by the White House that have made the document essentially unreadable.

“I am sending a letter today to the president laying out a series of changes to the redactions that we believe are necessary prior to public release. The White House and the intelligence community have committed to working through these changes in good faith,” Feinstein said in a statement. “This process will take some time, and the report will not be released until I am satisfied that all redactions are appropriate.” Full story

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