Roll Call: Latest News on Capitol Hill, Congress, Politics and Elections
January 30, 2015

January 29, 2015

Cornyn: Loretta Lynch Likely to Be Confirmed

(Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

(Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

The No. 2 Senate Republican said Thursday Loretta Lynch will “likely” be confirmed as attorney general, although he hasn’t yet made up his mind about how he will vote.

Majority Whip John Cornyn, R-Texas, stressed that GOP concerns remain over her independence.

Senate Judiciary Chairman Charles E. Grassley, R-Iowa, also said he hasn’t decided how to vote on the nomination. But he noted there is usually a “presumption” that a president gets their nominee. Full story

GOP Senators Seek to Put Focus Back on VA Scandal

(Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Moran isn’t satisfied with accountability at the VA. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

A group of Republican senators hopes to return attention to accountability issues at the Veterans’ Affairs Department that have disappeared from the headlines.

“The television cameras may have turned their focus elsewhere, but we will not,” Kansas GOP Sen. Jerry Moran said in a statement Thursday announcing he’s spearheading the Senate companion to a bill designed to give more power to the VA secretary to discipline senior executives engaged in improper practices.

Full story

Capito Fills Out Team

Capito is rounding out her team. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Capito is rounding out her team. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., has unveiled a raft of senior staff appointments, including Bipartisan Policy Center veteran Ashley Berrang as communications director.

“This extremely talented group is committed to serving West Virginians and taking on the challenges facing our state,” Capito said in a release. “The wealth of knowledge and experience each member of this team brings to the table will serve West Virginia well.” Full story

January 28, 2015

Cruz Says Fate of ‘Dangerous’ Lynch Up to McConnell

Cruz called Lynch's views "dangerous." (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

Cruz called Lynch’s views “dangerous.” (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

Sen. Ted Cruz called attorney general nominee Loretta Lynch’s immigration views “dangerous” Wednesday and questioned whether Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., should even have the chamber consider her nomination.

“That is the decision the majority leader is going to have to make. I believe we should use every constitutional tool available to stop the president’s unconstitutional executive action. That’s what Republicans, Republican candidates all over the country said over and over again last year,” the Texas Republican said in a brief interview with CQ Roll Call as the daylong Judiciary Committee hearing on Lynch’s nomination neared conclusion.

Full story

Lynch Hearing Gives Senators Chance to Vent

The hot lights of an attorney general nomination hearing gave Republicans a chance to unload on the White House in front of the TV cameras Wednesday on grievances ranging from immigration to marijuana policy.

The questions for nominee Loretta Lynch often said more about the interrogator than they did about Lynch. Full story

Lynch to Say She Wants Better Relations With Congress

(Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Lynch met with Leahy in December. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

When attorney general nominee Loretta Lynch takes the hot seat Wednesday morning, she’s planning to tell senators that she’s aiming for better relations with the legislative branch.

“I look forward to fostering a new and improved relationship with this Committee, the United States Senate, and the entire United States Congress – a relationship based on mutual respect and Constitutional balance,” Lynch is expected to say, according to prepared remarks. “Ultimately, I know we all share the same goal and commitment: to protect and serve the American people.”

Full story

Menendez Changes His Tune

Menendez (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Menendez (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Robert Menendez has gone from administration goat to hero in a week.

After declaring, at a hearing following the State of the Union, that White House talking points sound like they were coming “straight out of Tehran,” the New Jersey Democrat is back on board as Democrats unify against voting on Iran sanctions for about two months. Full story

January 27, 2015

7 Democrats Said to Back New Iran Sanctions Bill

Manchin, left, is among the Democrats backing Kirk's latest Iran sanctions proposal. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

Manchin, left, is among the Democrats backing Kirk’s latest Iran sanctions proposal. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

Some Democratic supporters opposed to immediate floor consideration of more conditional sanctions against Iran are signing new legislation spearheaded by Sen. Mark S. Kirk.

The Illinois Republican’s longtime partner on Iran, Foreign Relations ranking member Robert Menendez, D-N.J., is on board with a new version of the bill set to be introduced before the Senate, according to a source familiar with the legislation.

The source said six other Democratic senators are expected to sign on when the bill is formally filed: Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut, Bob Casey of Pennsylvania, Joe Donnelly of Indiana, Joe Manchin III of West Virginia, Gary Peters of Michigan and Charles E. Schumer of New York.

They were seven of the Democrats who signed a letter sent earlier in the day to President Barack Obama providing for a March 24 deadline, after which they would support floor consideration of the enhanced sanctions, which would be conditional, taking effect if the current talks between the P5+1 nations and Iran fail to produce a desired result.

“We are Democratic supporters of the Iran Nuclear Weapon Free Act of 2015 – a bill that would impose sanctions on Iran only if Iran fails to reach a comprehensive agreement by the June 30 deadline.  This bill also includes monthly waivers after June 30 to provide additional negotiating flexibility,” the Democrats wrote. “We believe that this bill, as introduced, is reasonable and pragmatic, respects the nuclear negotiating timeline, and sends a strong signal to Iran and to the international community that endless negotiations under the interim agreement are dangerous, unacceptable, and could leave Iran with a threshold nuclear weapon capability.”

While Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., declined to offer a timeline for floor consideration of the Iran sanctions measure, Foreign Relations Chairman Bob Corker, R-Tenn., said it would be a “surprise” if the Senate debates Iran policy before the date identified by the Democrats.

The Banking Committee is scheduled to take up the legislation Thursday. The new Kirk-Menendez bill comes just one day after a different group of senators offered a resolution supporting imposing additional sanctions if the Iran talks fail. That group of Democratic caucus members, led by Sens. Christopher S. Murphy of Connecticut and Dianne Feinstein of California, is promoting a diplomatic outcome.

“For those who agree that the sanctions bill in the Banking Committee is detrimental, this resolution provides an option in support of diplomacy. The resolution states that if negotiations fail or if Iran violates any agreement, then it is appropriate for Congress to swiftly pass sanctions,” Feinstein said in a statement.

Murphy said in a brief interview Tuesday he was encouraged by the letter from Menendez and company, and he hoped for additional supporters, perhaps from both sides of the aisle.

“This has always been about a difference in tactics, not a difference in policy. So that’s why, you know, Sen. Feinstein and I put out our resolution, and I think we’ll get more co-sponsors as time goes on. I mean, we wanted to make it clear that we are virtually unanimous in supporting new sanctions if and when the negotiations fall apart,” Murphy said. “The difference has only been about when we send the signal that we’re moving forward on the new sanctions — now or after the negotiations break up.”

Related:

Obama’s Big Win on Iran Sanctions

Lindsey Graham Proposes Iran ‘Alternative’

Backed by Cameron, Obama Warns Congress of Iran

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

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By Niels Lesniewski Posted at 5:27 p.m.
Iran

Feinstein Disputes CIA Report on Spying on Senate

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

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

The top Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee is disputing findings of a CIA Accountability Board review that determined no one should be punished for accessing Senate computer files.

“The bottom line is that the CIA accessed a Senate Intelligence Committee computer network without authorization, in clear violation of a signed agreement between the committee and former Director Leon Panetta,” Sen. Dianne Feinstein said in a statement. “That access, and the subsequent review of committee staff emails, breaches the constitutional separation of powers between Congress and the executive branch.”

Feinstein was the panel’s chairwoman last year, when she revealed that files used by committee staff as part of the landmark investigation into the use of torture techniques by the agency had been improperly accessed. In effect, the CIA had spied on the Senate. Full story

By Niels Lesniewski Posted at 11:05 a.m.
Intelligence

January 26, 2015

Harry Reid Released From Hospital After Eye Surgery

Reid returned to the Capitol last week. He had eye surgery Monday. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

Reid returned to the Capitol last week. He had eye surgery Monday. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

Updated 6:35 p.m. | Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid is out of the hospital after successful eye surgery and already trolling Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.

Spokesman Adam Jentleson said the surgery was “successful” but there is no definitive verdict on whether the Nevada Democrat will regain sight in his right eye damaged in a New Year’s Day exercise accident.

Full story

Senate Absences Begin for 2016 (Updated)

elections 2016

(Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Updated 3:15 p.m. | It may be January, but the Senate absences for potential presidential candidates have already begun.

Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky opted against attending the joint House-Senate Republican Republican retreat in Pennsylvania, and now it’s been reported that Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., could miss a week’s worth of business on the floor.

ABC News reported that Rubio would spend the week fundraising, with several events in California. Rubio is among those in the Senate Republican Conference mulling a White House bid. His Senate seat is also on the ballot in 2016.

Full story

Cuba CODEL Gets Firsthand Account of Dramatic Dealings

Leahy, center, and his wife Marcelle meet with Cardinal Ortega. (Courtesy of Leahy's Senate office)

Leahy, center, and his wife, Marcelle, meet with Ortega during a recent visit to Cuba. (Courtesy Leahy’s Senate office.)

A relationship forged on Sen. Patrick J. Leahy’s first visit to Cuba some 15 years ago helped the Vermont Democrat take an unexpected step in support of the White House’s efforts to bring home Alan Gross and re-establish diplomatic relations with the island nation.

A clandestine visit and subsequent message-passing with Pope Francis might sound like the makings of a spy novel, but both actually happened. And a congressional delegation, the first official trip to Cuba since the Obama administration’s December policy change announcement, got to hear a firsthand account from the man at the heart of the dealings.

Full story

Grassley to Ramp Up Oversight at Judiciary

Grassley in his office. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

Grassley in his office. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

When Loretta Lynch paid Sen. Charles E. Grassley a visit last month, the new Judiciary Committee chairman handed her a book — of all the unanswered letters he’s sent to the administration.

“I want to know if she is going to cooperate with our oversight,” the six-term Iowa Republican told CQ Roll Call in an interview in his office. “I am very interested in oversight … and we can’t carry it out if we can’t get the cooperation from them.”

Lynch, who was selected by President Barack Obama late last year to be attorney general, will have a chance to answer Grassley’s and the rest of the GOP’s questions on immigration and other issues all day Wednesday.

Known for his heartland candor, Grassley, unlike some other Republicans who have vowed to oppose Lynch’s nomination over Obama’s executive actions, hasn’t yet made up his mind how he will vote on her nomination to replace Eric H. Holder Jr.

“I want to get a feeling if she is going to be, hopefully, a lot less political, or not political at all, compared to Holder,” Grassley said.

Grassley’s push for strong oversight isn’t new — he handed Holder a book of letters too and he gained a reputation as a dogged investigator as the chairman of the Finance Committee the last time he held a gavel, more than eight years ago.

Aside from being a constitutional responsibility, Grassley’s philosophy has been that oversight can achieve results more quickly than legislation.

“I’m not talking just about hearings,” Grassley said. “What can we get by letter, what can we get by telephone conversations, what can we get by working through [the press]? … You use all those tools before you have a hearing.”

Grassley told Lynch he has seen myriad nominees — from both Democratic and Republican administrations — promise to cooperate and then ultimately disappoint him.

“It would really be better if, instead of saying, ‘yes,’ say, ‘maybe;’ then you’re being honest,” he said he told Lynch.

Grassley hopes the administration will be more responsive, including giving him the Office of Legal Counsel’s “legal opinions on the president’s executive edicts and things of that nature.”

On legislation, Grassley told CQ Roll Call about the possibility of moving bipartisan measures of interest to the committee last Congress.

He said moving on changing the sentencing system could be easier than the others.

“I’ve had some different views than some of my Republican colleagues have had; it’s going to be difficult to work things out, but I wouldn’t say they couldn’t be worked out,” Grassley said. “Compared to patent trolling, juvenile justice reauthorization, [the Freedom of Information Act], I think those things are a little harder, but not impossible.”

But he said he remains skeptical of a sentencing system overhaul. The committee cleared a bill last year sponsored by Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, and Senate Minority Whip Richard J. Durbin, D-Ill., which would restore judicial discretion by making reductions to mandatory minimums for some drug crimes.

“Mandatory minimums are about the only thing that makes sure there is some consistency from one judge to another,” Grassley said.

He’s also monitoring what’s going on in the states and the administration on marijuana.

“I see it divided into three different areas,” he said. “Commercial production of hemp, which is pretty much up to the states under the farm bill. Recreational marijuana: I want to make sure it’s not a gateway to higher drugs before I would vote for legalization. And medical marijuana: You ought to have the same standard as you have for other drug approval by [the Food and Drug Administration] from the standpoint of efficacy and safety.”

And he riffed on prosecutorial discretion.

“This is probably something that is going to come up with Lynch, whether I would ask it or not doesn’t matter,” he said. “But for an attorney general, not just on marijuana, but on anything, to signal to the whole world that you are going to prosecute some and not prosecute others. … I understand that you don’t have the resources to prosecute everybody, but you don’t send a signal to the rest of the world, ‘[It] doesn’t matter,’ or, ‘It matters in some instances and not others,’ because you’re going to encourage disrespect for the law.”

Grassley also isn’t done with the Operation Fast and Furious and IRS scandals.

Republicans have been pursuing answers on Fast and Furious for years; the refusal by Holder to turn over related documents resulted in a House vote to hold him in contempt in 2012.

Last October, Grassley, along with then-House Oversight and Government Reform Chairman Darrell Issa, R-Calif., wrote to the Department of Justice about a gun found at the scene of a shooting in Arizona connected to the botched gun sting operation.

The letter was the fourth time Grassley requested information on a Fast and Furious gun.

On the IRS, Grassley said he and his staff would work closely on the ongoing investigation with Finance Chairman Orrin G. Hatch, R-Utah.

Republicans have been frustrated at the pace of the Justice Department’s own investigation.

Meanwhile, Grassley has been gearing up for re-election next year.

“The days of cheap campaigns are over,” he said, though he conceded one advantage — the anticipated large field of 2016 presidential contenders who will be eager to lend their support to the popular senior statesman from Iowa, home of the first round of caucuses.

“When I have what you might call house parties or, or fundraising parties in homes in Iowa, I think I can call on a lot of presidential candidates that’ll help me get out a big crowd,” he said.

He also touts his personal ground game.

“My philosophy for running a campaign is doing the best possible job you can with your official duties, and then that includes Washington, D.C., but it also includes the 99-county tours that I’ve done for 34 years in a row,” Grassley said. “I’ve had seven town meetings so far this year.”

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

Get breaking news alerts and more from Roll Call in your inbox or on your iPhone.

January 23, 2015

McConnell Shows He’s the Boss

(Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

(Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

The honeymoon may be over for Mitch McConnell.

The Kentucky Republican’s open-process experiment took a turn Thursday night when the newly minted majority leader showed his patience has its limits, as he forced a series of votes to table Democratic amendments and refused to allow their sponsors a minute to explain them.

Full story

January 22, 2015

Senator on ‘#DeflateGate': Send Colts to Super Bowl

(Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

(Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Sen. Dan Coats tweeted Thursday that the Indiana Colts, not the New England Patriots, should play in the Super Bowl, as the National Football League controversy surrounding the use of under-inflated game balls in Sunday’s AFC Championship continued to unfold.

Taking to Twitter, the Hoosier State Republican proposed that Patriots’ head coach Bill Belichick should be suspended, and Tom Brady should be benched. Anything short of this, Coats then tweeted, and Hoosiers “file suit” and ask Supreme Court Chief Justice Roberts, an Indiana native, to take up the case “immediately.”

Asked about so-called deflate-gate outside the Senate chamber, Coats walked it back.”Obviously, I was a little over the top,” he said of the tweets. But Coats echoed calls from Nevada’s senators for action from the NFL.

“I think the league should thoroughly investigate this, because there have been other accusations relative to the Patriots before,” Coats said. “Let’s put it to bed. I’m sure the Patriots would want to put it to bed also.”

Related:

Nevada Senators Blast NFL Over Under-Inflated Footballs

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

Get breaking news alerts and more from Roll Call in your inbox or on your iPhone.

By Hannah Hess Posted at 6:11 p.m.
Policy

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