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

March 30, 2015

Patty Murray Backs Schumer for Leader

(Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Murray is backing Schumer for leader. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

BOSTON — Having won the backing of the entire leadership team, New York’s Charles E. Schumer might become the next Senate Democratic leader by acclamation.

Conference Secretary Patty Murray, D-Wash., has joined in endorsing Schumer for the top job when Nevada Democrat Harry Reid retires at the beginning of 2017, according to a Murray aide.

Full story

By Niels Lesniewski Posted at 12:46 p.m.
Democrats

Even Senators Are Awestruck by Ted Kennedy’s Senate Chamber

hang out in a life-size replica of the Senate Chamber during a gala that was part of the dedication ceremony for the Edward M. Kennedy Institute in Boston, Mass., March 29, 2015. (Photo By Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

Senators Whitehouse and Levin hang out in a life-size replica of the Senate Chamber during a gala that was part of the dedication ceremony for the Edward M. Kennedy Institute in Boston on Mar. 29 (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

BOSTON — There are few places in the political world as awe inspiring as the Senate chamber, but there’s now a pretty darn good modern replica that will be a living legacy for the liberal lion, Edward M. Kennedy.

Stepping onto the floor of the replica Senate chamber through the doorway that might be most often used by Minority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., that is the highlight of the new Edward M. Kennedy Institute is, in a word, surreal.

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By Niels Lesniewski Posted at 8:39 a.m.
Potpourri

March 27, 2015

Harry Reid Biography: The CQ Profile

Senate Minority Leader Reid announced on March 27 that he is bowing out of the Senate at the end of his current term in 2016, ending months of speculation. His 33-year congressional career has spanned five presidents and countless Senate floor debates with rival Republicans.

Reid made his retirement announcement in a three-minute video posted on YouTube and Twitter. On the day he was first sworn into the House in 1983, Time magazine’s cover story explored the advent of the personal computer, which was “beeping its way into offices, schools and homes.”

In the flat, dry voice familiar to a generation of CSPAN viewers, Reid alluded to the New Year’s Day accident on an exercise machine which broke some ribs, bruised his face and forced him to undergo eye surgery. The accident kept him away from the Senate floor for a month and led to increased speculation that he would not run again.

“This accident,” Reid said, “has caused Landra [his wife] and me to have a little down time. I have had time to ponder and to think.”

Reid’s most lasting accomplishment in his final years as majority leader is bound to be the historic vote on Nov. 21, 2013, to change Senate rules and disallow filibusters on nominations other than those to the Supreme Court.

Democrats had grown increasingly frustrated by Republicans blocking President Barack Obama’s nominees, especially to the high-profile U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. After Reid invoked the “nuclear option” rules change, only a 51-vote majority is needed to end debate on nominations, rather than 60 votes.

“The American people believe the Senate is broken, and I believe the American people are right,” Reid said. “It’s time to get the Senate working again, not for the good of the current Democratic majority or some future Republican majority but for the good of the country.”

Reid has had a mostly cordial relationship with GOP leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, but a “gentlemen’s agreement” they struck early in 2011 didn’t hold. Republicans continued to filibuster procedural motions to slow down bills, and Reid often “filled the amendment tree” — a procedure that prevents the minority from proposing changes to bills on the Senate floor. At the start of the 113th Congress in 2013, they agreed on rule changes so that Republicans would be able to offer a minimum number of amendments on bills while giving up some of their power to force procedural votes.

But in his final year as majority leader, Reid seemed to try to shield Democratic senators who were up for reelection in 2014 from having to vote often on amendments that might give their opponents campaign fodder. He also accused the conservative Koch brothers, owners of a Kansas conglomerate, of “trying to buy America, to pump untold millions into our democracy, hoping to get a government that would serve their bottom line and make them more money,”

This apparent strategy did not work, as Democrats lost nine seats and control of the Senate.

Reid himself has always been a fighter. The son of an alcoholic miner and a high-school dropout mother, he grew up in a small town in the Nevada desert and was an amateur middleweight boxer before college and law school and his entry into politics.

Reid had been elected Democratic leader in the Senate in 2005 after Tom Daschle was defeated for reelection in South Dakota. Two years later, he became Majority Leader, enjoying the cooperation of a House also led by Democrats.  He picked up a Democratic president in 2009. Success was defined by holding his party together, and there were impressive results: Using procedural tools and his talents for horse-trading, Reid helped engineer an economic stimulus package and overhauls of the health care system and financial sector regulation.

But last year landscape changed.

In his first press conference after the election, Reid reflected on the defeat. “What we saw in this incredibly difficult election is that people that should have voted, that didn’t vote, are people who needed a reason to vote. And we have to create an atmosphere where the middle class feels that we’re fighting for them.”

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 Blogs Editors Posted at 2:44 p.m.
Harry Reid

McConnell Praises ‘Son of Searchlight’

(Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

(Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has had no shortage of battles with his Democratic counterpart Harry Reid of Nevada over the years, but when the minority leader announced his retirement Friday, the Kentucky Republican offered kind words.

“Nothing has ever come easily to this son of Searchlight. Underestimated often, his distinctive grit and determined focus nevertheless saw him through many challenges,” McConnell said in a statement. “They continue to make him a formidable opponent today.”

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Reid, Durbin Endorse Schumer as Next Leader (Updated) (Video)

Schumer and Durbin are moving out. (Douglas Graham/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Durbin, left, Schumer, second from right, and Murray, far right, are all candidates to fill Reid’s shoes. (CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Updated 4:36 p.m. | Some senators and aides may have barely awoken after a late-night budget vote-a-rama by the time not only had the chamber’s minority leader announced his retirement, but the gears were turning toward a succession plan.

In announcing that he would retire at the end of the 114th Congress instead of seeking another term, Minority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., could have set off a contested race for the top spot in a leadership hierarchy that’s seen very little movement.

Full story

By Niels Lesniewski Posted at 9:34 a.m.
Harry Reid

Senate Budget Passes as Vote-A-Rama Wraps (Updated)

(Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

(Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Updated 4:20 a.m. | The Senate approved the GOP’s budget blueprint on a 52-46 vote following an epic vote-a-rama that featured dozens of test votes on everything from carbon taxes to Social Security benefits for same-sex marriages.

Two Republicans eyeing the White House voted no: Ted Cruz of Texas and Rand Paul of Kentucky, but otherwise the vote was along party lines.

“By passing a balanced budget that emphasizes growth, common sense and the needs of the middle class, Republicans have shown that the Senate is under new management and delivering on the change and responsible government the American people expect,” Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said in a statement.

“The Democrat-led Senate for years refused not only to pass a balanced budget, but any budget at all. Those days are over, and the proof is passage of a balanced plan with ideas that Congress’ nonpartisan analysts tell us would boost jobs, raise income and drive economic growth,” the Kentucky Republican added.

There were moments of drama, like two vulnerable GOP senators up in 2016 switching their votes to “yes” to back paid sick leave, giving it 61 votes.

Senators even voted to nix their own health insurance benefits on a 52-46 vote around 2:30 a.m. — a vote David Vitter of Louisiana has been seeking for nearly two years, much to the consternation of many of his colleagues.

Earlier the Senate Republicans eyeing the presidency jostled for position on war funding. Full story

Vitter Amendment Rears Its Head in Wee Hours of Vote-a-Rama (Updated)

(Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Vitter knows he has better leverage on must-pass legislation. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Updated 3:47 a.m. | Sen. David Vitter won a small victory in the wee hours Friday, resurrecting his amendment to end employer-provided health benefits for members of Congress.

Fourteen hours into the vote-a-rama, 52 senators voted to approve the Louisiana Republican’s proposal. It came first in a series of seven votes wrapping up the marathon session. The nonbinding vote marked Vitter’s latest salvo in an ongoing crusade against congressional enrollment in Obamacare.

“This amendment would say no, we’re going to live by that statute. We’re going to go to the exchange for our health care. No special subsidy, no special deal, and it would also apply to the president, the vice president and their political appointees,” Vitter said, making clear it wouldn’t pertain to congressional aides.

Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., refuted the idea of there being anything special about getting a health care subsidy.

“Today every single senator is treated like every single person in the country who works for a large employer. Those large employers all make a contribution to their employees’ health care,” Boxer said. “Now colleagues, you do not have to take that employer contribution. If you don’t want it, give it back.”

Boxer added she assumes Vitter pays his subsidy back to the Treasury Department.

One Democrat, Michael Bennet of Colorado, who faces the voters in 2016, joined Vitter, while three Republicans — Susan Collins of Maine, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Dan Coats of Indiana — voted no.

Coats announced this week he won’t seek reelection.

As part of his crusade, Vitter has tried to attach the amendment to all kinds of legislation, including a low profile energy efficiency measure. But the senator, who wants to become governor of Louisiana, has learned he has the best leverage with must-pass measures like the budget.

Vitter also tried taking on the House of Representatives, asking Speaker John A. Boehner to help him get information on Congress’ small-business exchange applications. So far, House officials have shrugged off his request, writing it off as an attempt to score political points.

Niels Lesniewski and Steven T. Dennis contributed to this report.

Related:

Rand Paul Proposes Higher Defense Spending — If It’s Paid for

Voting Marathon: More Test Marketing Than Attack Ads

Vote-a-Rama Presents Political Peril for Vulnerable Incumbents

Start Preparing Now for the Budget Vote-A-Rama

Democrats Outline Floor Strategy for Budget Battle

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 3:19 a.m.
Budget, Health Care

What Senators Read About During Vote-a-Rama: Iran Deal

One of Iran’s most notable former diplomats, the ex-spokesman for the nation’s nuclear negotiation team, wrote the most popular book spotted on the Senate floor during the annual vote-a-rama. Full story

By Hannah Hess Posted at 12:50 a.m.
Budget, Iran

March 26, 2015

Same-Sex Marriage Benefits Endorsed on Senate Floor (Updated)

Schatz (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Schatz (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Updated 12:22 a.m. | The Senate endorsed Social Security and veterans benefits for married gay couples Thursday night in a 57-43 vote, with 11 Republicans joining every Democrat.

The amendment slowed down the vote-a-rama, with a group of Republicans huddled in the well and at times talking to sponsor Brian Schatz, D-Hawaii.

The nonbinding amendment to the budget resolution still falls short of the 60 votes needed to beat back filibusters in the chamber. Full story

By Steven Dennis Posted at 10:46 p.m.
Budget, LGBT

Live, On Periscope, From the Vote-a-Rama

Moran and Thune were live on Periscope during the vote-a-rama. (Niels Lesniewski/CQ Roll Call)

Moran and Thune on Periscope during the vote-a-rama. (Niels Lesniewski/CQ Roll Call)

For a pair of Republican senators, the budget vote-a-rama seemed like a great time to demonstrate they aren’t luddites.

Sens. John Thune of South Dakota and Jerry Moran of Kansas teamed up to shoot a brief video using the Periscope live-streaming app to share with their constituents (and all of the Internet) what the Senate is doing on what will be an exceptionally long night.

Full story

Deal on Kirk’s Iran Amendment Leads to Unanimous Vote

Mark Kirk Bowe Bergdahl Taliban video

Kirk (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

As evening approached in the Senate’s budget vote-a-rama, lawmakers found some common ground on Iran. A 100-0 vote followed.

Sen. Mark S. Kirk, R-Ill., and Banking Committee ranking Democrat Sherrod Brown of Ohio ultimately teamed up on an amendment designed to make it easier to punish the Iranian regime with revived and new sanctions in the event the president can’t certify Iran is complying with any agreement.

Full story

By Niels Lesniewski Posted at 6:19 p.m.
Budget, Iran

Bill Nelson: Don’t Censor ‘Climate Change’ (Video)

Florida Democrat Bill Nelson used the annual Senate vote-a-rama to dis Republican Gov. Rick Scott’s alleged ban on the terms “climate change” and “global warming.”

Nelson has an amendment pending aimed at blocking federal agencies from censoring speech related to climate change. It would set up a procedural hurdle to Senate consideration of any future legislation that censors a federal agency’s use of climate change science.

Nelson called it “common sense” to protect those terms during a Thursday morning speech. “But we have all read news reports at the state level, at the local level, maybe even at the federal level that, indeed, some folks are trying to muzzle scientists from speaking about the science involving the oceans, the atmosphere, climate and the weather.”

Full story

Vote-a-Rama Minute-by-Minute

(CQ Roll Call File Photo)

(CQ Roll Call File Photo)

The moment you’ve been waiting for — the (sort of) annual Senate vote-a-rama — is here. A whole host of CQ Roll Call reporters and editors are tweeting out details during the marathon voting session, which you can read below. Scores of amendments are expected to get votes, with final adoption of the Senate GOP’s budget expected early Friday morning.

Hundreds of amendments have been filed, and the only limit to the voting time is exhaustion, aided by the powerful jet fumes of a pending recess.

Voting Marathon: More Test Marketing Than Attack Ads

Vote-a-Rama Presents Political Peril for Vulnerable Incumbents

Start Preparing Now for the Budget Vote-A-Rama

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.

Loretta Lynch: From ‘Back of the Bus’ to ‘Sacrificial Lamb’

Jackson Lee, right, . (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

Jackson Lee, far right, alleges Lynch’s race and sex have delayed a Senate vote. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

Adopting rhetoric similar to Illinois Senator and Minority Whip Richard J. Durbin’s “back of the bus” comment that drew the ire of Republicans, about a dozen women congregated outside Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s office Thursday to protest the delay on confirming Loretta Lynch.

The group, visiting Capitol Hill as part of the Black Women’s Roundtable 2015 National Women of Power Summit, allege Lynch’s race and sex impacted the Kentucky Republican’s timetable for voting on the nomination and used the upcoming Easter holiday to inject religion into their plea. Full story

Senators Launch Effort to ‘Cut Red Tape’

Lankford (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

Lankford (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

“People don’t get up every morning and read the Federal Register.”

That, Sen. James Lankford said Thursday morning, is the crux of the reason why the Oklahoma Republican is joining Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D., to launch a new initiative at their Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Subcommittee that’s responsible for regulatory policy called #CutRedTape, through which they want ordinary Americans — like those without lobbyists — to share concerns about federal regulations.

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