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Posts by Bridget Bowman
July 31, 2014
Updated, 9:32 p.m. | Two southern Republican senators — Jeff Sessions of Alabama and Ted Cruz of Texas — played outsized roles sinking border supplemental bills on both sides of the Capitol as they demanded a push to end President Barack Obama’s “administrative amnesty.”
Sessions had ripped the House’s border bill as “surrender” to Obama’s plans to reportedly grant deportation relief and work permits to as many as five million more people in the country illegally. And Cruz rallied Republicans to back his legislation aimed at “stopping President Obama’s amnesty.”
Asked Thursday evening about his influence over House members, Sessions told CQ Roll Call, “I’ve been very clear on my views about what the key issues are. The president’s stunning declaration that he’s going to issue a massive amnesty requires Congress to appropriately respond. I think the best way to do that is through the power of the purse and so I just felt that — and I’ve been clear about it so the House members will make up their own mind.”
When pressed on whether he lobbied the Alabama delegation about the House bill, Sessions told CQ Roll Call, “I told them how I felt.” Full story
The Senate overwhelmingly passed the agreement to address the Veterans Affairs health care crisis just a few hours before the August recess.
The 91-3 vote sends the bill to the president for his signature. The only opponents were Republicans Tom Coburn of Oklahoma, Jeff Sessions of Alabama and Bob Corker of Tennessee.
“This is the beginning of the beginning of our effort to help those men and women who have defended our nation with honor and dignity. And we owe them that,” Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., said on the Senate floor Tuesday night. Full story
July 14, 2014
Senate Majority Whip Richard J. Durbin has a new communications director as of Monday, Ben Marter, who is now the head of the Illinois Democrat’s whip press team.
Marter has worked as a communications director for his entire five-year tenure on Capitol Hill, having worked most recently as communications director for Durbin’s fellow Senate Democrat, Christopher S. Murphy of Connecticut.
Marter joined Murphy’s office in 2011 after leading the press shop for former Rep. Betsy Markey, D-Colo., where he had been since 2009.
Sen. Thomas R. Carper, D-Del., announced two staffing changes to his committee and personal offices Monday morning.
As chairman of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, Carper promoted Jennie Westbrook to be the committee’s communications director. She was formerly the committee press secretary.
Meghan Pennington has moved from the House to the Senate to become communications director for Carper’s personal office. Pennington and Westbrook replace the vacancy left by Emily Spain, who was promoted to legislative director in April.
“Jennie Westbrook has been an integral asset to our team over the past five years,” Carper said in a statement, adding, “As she takes on this exciting new role to spearhead the committee’s communications team, I have the utmost confidence that she will continue to thrive.”
Westbrook first joined Carper’s office in 2009 and worked as his press secretary. She then moved to the same position in his committee in 2013.
Pennington has worked as a communications director for the past two-and-a-half years for Rep. John Sarbanes, D-Md. Before joining Sarbanes’ office, she worked as a press secretary for the late Sen. Frank R. Lautenberg, D-N.J., as well as deputy press secretary and press assistant for Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski, D-Md.
“Her service in both chambers will prove to be an asset for me and Delawareans and I look forward to having her on our team,” Carper said of Pennington.
June 24, 2014
House and Senate negotiators hope for a quick deal to fix the Department of Veterans Affairs although they have yet to resolve whether to offset a potentially enormous pricetag or add to the deficit.
More than two dozen members of the House and Senate met in a rare conference committee Tuesday to begin resolving each chambers’ proposals to address the VA health care scandal.
It was the first time in 15 years that members met in a joint committee regarding VA legislation, which Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., said “shows how severe the problems facing the VA are and how serious members are about fixing them.” Full story
June 10, 2014
Senate Finance Committee Chairman Ron Wyden, D-Ore., is keeping his options open on how to fund a new highway bill in order to help foster a bipartisan solution.
“Nothing has been agreed to, nothing has been ruled out, nothing has been ruled in,” Wyden told reporters Tuesday. “And the way it’s going to work is by the end of today, early tomorrow morning, we’ll have a bead on what members of the Finance Committee want to do and then we’ll go from there.”
“There are no easy answers here,” Wyden continued. “Failure is not an option and we’re going to make decisions in a bipartisan way.”
June 5, 2014
In the wake of a national debate surrounding the exchange of five Taliban detainees for Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, Maryland’s two senators are asking the Obama administration for answers regarding the fate of two Americans civilians held captive abroad — Alan Gross and Warren Weinstein.
“I am concerned that the same energy and resources that we rightfully put into our nation’s prisoners of war are not being extended to our nation’s civil servants and contractors,” wrote Senate Appropriations Chairwoman Barbara A. Mikulski in a letter sent to the president on Thursday. Full story
Updated 4:16 p.m. | Sens. John McCain, R-Ariz., and Bernard Sanders, I-Vt., announced a bipartisan VA health care deal Thursday afternoon.
Sanders, the Senate Veterans’ Affairs chairman, and McCain met Thursday to negotiate a bipartisan response to the scandal at the VA — and they announced the deal on the Senate floor.
“We were able to come together, I believe, in a way that will help to relieve this terrible tragedy that seems to have befallen our nation’s veterans,” McCain said. “We both had to make some very tough compromises.”
“Our job was to sit down and work out the best agreement. We did,” Sanders said. “Does it solve all of the problems facing our veterans? Absolutely not.”
The deal includes accountability measures allowing immediate firing of Department of Veterans Affairs officials, leases for 26 new VA major medical facilities and authorization to hire new doctors and nurses.
Notably, it would also allow veterans to get private care if they are experiencing long wait times or are more than 40 miles from a VA facility. The provision would last for two years and then be evaluated to see if it addresses the issue. What counts as unreasonable will be determined by the VA.
Sanders said that allowing private healthcare providers to solve the problem was a significant concession for him, because he is concerned about privatization of the system. “It opens up a fear of privatization, which I am strongly, strongly opposed to,” Sanders said.
It also includes other issues, including in-state tuition rates for all veterans at public colleges and universities. Surviving spouses of soldiers who die in the line of duty would also get tuition aid.
The measure is expected to cost less than $2 billion and will be classified as an emergency appropriation, meaning it would not have to be offset under budget rules. Full story
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid dismissed bipartisan congressional complaints about President Barack Obama’s decision not to provide the legally required 30-day notice to Congress before exchanging five Taliban detainees for Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl.
“Its a big deal over nothing,” Reid said Thursday when asked why he appeared to be the only member to have gotten a heads up the day before the swap. “The whole deal is, is it Friday or Saturday? What difference does it make?” Full story
May 22, 2014
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid offered to make 2017 the effective date for an immigration overhaul Thursday so Republicans no longer can use President Barack Obama as an excuse not to pass a bill — and set an August deadline for the House to act.
“Let’s pass immigration reform today. Make it take effect in 2017. Republicans don’t trust President Obama,” Reid said. “Let’s give them a chance to approve the bill under President Rand Paul or President Theodore Cruz. To be clear, delaying implementation of immigration reform is not my preference. But I feel so strongly that this bill needs to get done, I’m willing to show flexibility.” Full story
May 19, 2014
“What reaction do you usually expect from banks?” Sen. Elizabeth Warren asked a reporter last week.
It was classic Warren. Appearing at a news conference with fellow Democrats and D.C.-area college students to roll out legislation she spearheaded that would let borrowers refinance student loans, the Massachusetts Democrat dismissed a question about financial institutions losing profits from older, high-interest loans.
“There’s a real question here. Does Congress work for the rich and the powerful, for those who can hire armies of lobbyists and lawyers, or does Congress work for the rest of America?” Warren asked. “We believe the rest of America should get a fair shot at an affordable education.” Full story
May 6, 2014
Updated: 6:03 p.m. | Every female senator signed a letter to President Barack Obama Tuesday, calling for international sanctions against the terrorist group that abducted more than 200 girls in Nigeria last month.
Sens. Barbara A. Mikulski, D-Md., and Susan Collins, R-Maine, led the group of women pressuring the administration to implore the U.N. Security Council to add Boko Haram to its al-Qaida sanctions list. The Islamist militant group claimed responsibility for the kidnappings Monday.
“In the face of the brazen nature of this horrific attack, the international community must impose further sanctions on this terrorist organization,” the senators wrote. “Boko Haram is a threat to innocent civilians in Nigeria, to regional security, and to U.S. national interests.” Full story
April 8, 2014
Sen. John McCain, R- Ariz., confronted Secretary of State John Kerry about the Obama administration’s foreign policy in a heated exchange at a Senate Foreign Relations hearing Tuesday.
“I must say, I think you’re about to hit the trifecta,” McCain told Kerry, citing the ongoing conflict in Syria, the seemingly stalled Israeli-Palestinian peace talks and the uncertain nuclear deal with Iran, which McCain predicted would collapse.
McCain further lambasted Kerry, who was testifying on the administration’s national security and foreign policy budget priorities, on failing to provide defensive weapons to Ukraine, saying the failure to do so was “beyond logic.”
“On the issue of Ukraine, my hero, Teddy Roosevelt, used to say talk softly, but carry a big stick,” said the Arizona Republican. “What you’re doing is talking strongly and carrying a very small stick, in fact, a twig.” Full story
March 28, 2014
Jeremiah Denton, former Alabama Senator and a Vietnam War hero, died of heart problems Friday morning at the age of 89.
According to the Associated Press, family members surrounded Denton when he passed away at 8 a.m. at a Hospice facility in Virginia Beach, Va.
The Mobile, Ala., native was elected to the Senate in 1980 — the first Republican to represent Alabama since Reconstruction. During his one term in the Senate, Denton established himself as a staunch social conservative. Denton narrowly lost his 1986 reelection bid to then-Democrat Richard C. Shelby. Full story