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

Posts by Hannah Hess

26 Posts

July 21, 2015

Graham Cellphone Debacle Might Be Hassle for Senate Tech Team

Graham, R-S.C., speaks with reporters in the Capitol on Tuesday, April 21, 2015. (Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

Graham will have a Senate tech team to help him if he needs to update his digits. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

Because the cellphone number Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump announced to the world Tuesday was issued to Sen. Lindsey Graham by the Senate, Trump’s stunt has likely caused some extra work for the institution’s tech support team.

Staff of the Senate sergeant-at-arms will help the South Carolina Republican if he decides to update the digits Trump recited to a crowd in Graham’s home state, apparently in retaliation for Graham calling Trump a “jackass.” Full story

March 27, 2015

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

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

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

March 24, 2015

Senate Ditches Obama Budget; Plan Earns Only 1 ‘Yes’

(Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

Senate Republicans and Democrats soundly rejected Obama’s budget plan on Wednesday afternoon. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

Sen. Thomas R. Carper, D-Del., joined the very short list of members of Congress who have cast “yes” votes on President Barack Obama’s budget proposals Wednesday evening, when the Senate rejected a budget alternative based on the $4 trillion blueprint unveiled by Obama in February.

Ninety-eight senators voted against the motion to take it up, following a pattern set in recent years by Republicans trying to force Democrats to go on the record voting against the White House spending plan. Full story

By Hannah Hess Posted at 7:01 p.m.
Budget

Inhofe’s Revenge on FAA, Round 2

Inhofe has been licensed to fly since the mid-1950s. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Inhofe has been licensed to fly since the mid-1950s. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Updated 10 p.m. | Sen. James M. Inhofe kicked off budget week with a floor speech on the sequel to his Pilot’s Bill of Rights, which the Oklahoma Republican acknowledged Monday “is not a big deal to the general public, but it is to anyone who is a pilot.”

That includes the 80-year-old senator, who has been navigating the skies for more than half a century. Full story

By Hannah Hess Posted at 4:10 p.m.
Potpourri

March 20, 2015

Democrats Take Aim at Liquid Detergent Packaging

Nelson, Durbin and Speier, say the liquid detergent packets look like bite-sized candy. (Hannah Hess/CQ Roll Call)

Nelson, Durbin and Speier say the liquid detergent packets look like bite-sized candy. (Hannah Hess/CQ Roll Call)

“Now that’s pretty attractive,” said Sen. Bill Nelson, eyeing a half dollar-sized packet of liquid laundry detergent on Thursday morning, before stroking the squishy blue orb against his well-tanned jaw.

“And it feels really nice to the touch,” the Florida Democrat cooed. “And it smells good,” he added, coaxing a reporter covering the news conference on liquid detergent package poisoning to pass his prop on to the cameramen. “Pass it on because until you touch it, you don’t realize how attractive it is.”

Nelson’s theatrical performance elicited some laughter during an otherwise somber presentation that featured a mother whose 8-month-old daughter ended up in intensive care after biting into one of the colorful, bite-sized packages of highly concentrated, single-load detergent. Liquid detergent packaging exposure is also linked to the death of a 7-month-old boy in Florida.

“It ought to be common sense that things that are attractive are going to enter into the mouth of an infant,” Nelson said. He also took a quick swipe at one of Democrats’ favorite foes, e-cigarettes, comparing the colorful detergent to liquid vials of nicotine.

In response to recent poisonings, Senate Minority Whip Richard J. Durbin has introduced legislation that would give the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission the authority and direction to issue rules requiring safer, child-resistant packaging for liquid detergent products within 18 months of enactment. Six Senate Democrats, including Nelson, are co-sponsoring the bill.

Durbin and Rep. Jackie Speier, D-Calif., sponsor of companion legislation, also wrote to the commission, asking them to help. “The problem with that is government moves slowly,” Durbin said. “And while the government is moving slowly, if it does move in the right direction, kids are at risk.”

Nelson, Durbin and Speier called on industry giants, starting with Procter & Gamble, to add protections to their products. They suggest changing the design and color of the liquid detergent packets to make them less appealing to children, changing the composition of the packets to make consequences of exposure less severe and adding proper warning labels.

“If it had a bitter taste to it, the kid might spit it out right off the bat,” Durbin said. The lawmakers plan to abandon the bill if those voluntary standards are accepted and put into practice. Durbin urged the industry: “Don’t wait. Do it yourself, and do it in a hurry, because kids lives are at risk here.”

Related:

Democrats Renew Press for Curbs on E-Cigarettes

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.

March 19, 2015

Marijuana Bill Gains Steam in Senate

Boxer is latest to back medical marijuana legislation in the Senate. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Boxer is latest to back medical marijuana legislation in the Senate. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

When it comes to pot, political winds may be shifting in the Senate.

Joining a new generation of senators such as Cory Booker, D-N.J., Rand Paul, R-Ky., and Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., veteran Democrat Barbara Boxer has added her name to a bill rolled out on March 10 aimed at protecting state medical marijuana operations from federal interference while rescheduling the drug. Full story

March 18, 2015

Democrats Blast ‘Back of the Bus’ Status for Loretta Lynch (Video) (Updated)

Updated 5:58 p.m. | A top Senate Democrat has accused the GOP forcing Loretta Lynch to “sit in the back of the bus” by delaying the vote on her confirmation.

“The fact is, there is no substantive reason to stop this nomination,” Senate Minority Whip Richard J. Durbin, D-Ill., said in a Wednesday morning floor speech blasting Majority Leader Mitch McConnell for prioritizing pending anti-human trafficking legislation. Full story

March 10, 2015

‘Good Job, Tom': Fellow Freshmen Republicans Commend Cotton

 2015. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

Cotton won a subcommittee gavel on the Senate Armed Services Committee shortly after he was sworn into office. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

As an unapologetic neoconservative hawk, it perhaps came as no surprise to Senate Republicans last week when Arkansas freshman Tom Cotton started circulating his five-paragraph missive to Iran’s leadership.

“We’re all aligned that we do not want a nuclear Iran,” said Sen. David Perdue, R-Ga., who confirmed to CQ Roll Call that he was the first of the 46 Republicans who joined Cotton on the letter. “That’s what this is all about. I applaud his leadership in offering the letter — but we’re all aligned.”

All 11 of Cotton’s fellow Republican freshmen in the Senate signed onto the letter, including fellow military veterans Joni Ernst of Iowa and Dan Sullivan of Alaska. Like Cotton, military service played a major role in each of their campaigns.

Fellow freshman Sen. Thom Tillis, R-N.C., praised Cotton’s “leadership and courage,” when asked about his decision to sign. “I think that we’re getting a discussion going that’s very important and I think that the American people are interested in, too. So, [I] fully support him — that’s why I signed onto the letter.”

Another rookie to the chamber, Republican Bill Cassidy of Louisiana, capped his thoughts on the letter with: “So, good job, Tom.” Cassidy, who served with Cotton in the House prior to winning a Senate seat, told CQ Roll Call that the two have a good relationship, but shied away from the suggestion that his colleague stands out as a leader in the freshman class.

“No, I think that everybody has their area of interest … I mean, it’s nothing against [Cotton],” Cassidy said. “Everybody has their area, right? What is your committee? What is your natural interest? He comes from being a war veteran, and so he’s of course naturally interested in the Middle East, so I think it’s natural for him to take an interest in this.”

In a noteworthy move, Cotton was appointed chairman of the powerful Senate Armed Services Airland Subcommittee at the start of the 114th Congress. He made waves in January with a speech delivered at the Heritage Foundation blasting the White House’s attempts to negotiate with Iran. The Harvard-educated hawk, who served in both Iraq and Afghanistan, has also proposed curtailing the president’s authority to waive new sanctions against Iran.

“I think his experience as a veteran is a great asset to the United States Senate and to our country,” said Sen. Steve Daines, R-Mont., who also emphasized that Republicans backing the bill are all aligned on Cotton’s message.

The GOP senators who didn’t sign have been clear about where they diverged from Cotton.

Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine expressed worries about the message that Cotton penned. For one, there were some “technical glitches with the letter,” Collins said. “We vote whether or not to approve or reject a resolution of ratification.”

Another was the tone, which Democrats characterized as gratuitous and brazen. Collins said it was “different than I would have used.” But her chief concern was that the letter seemed to undermine the Senate’s role in giving or withholding consent to the president at this critical stage of the negotiations.

“The best way for me to state my position on Iran was to support [Sen. Bob] Corker’s proposal to make sure that Congress approves any deal President Obama makes with Iran,” said Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn. “I believe all of us in the Republican caucus support that, and a growing number of Democrats, too. So, I think what unites us on the Republican side is our feeling that Congress ought to have a say, and I didn’t see a need to say more than that.”

Many on the left have balked at the letter, bashing it as over the top. Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. called it “beneath the dignity of an institution I revere” and said it “ignores two centuries of precedent and threatens to undermine the ability of any future American President.” Obama accused Republicans of making “common cause” with Iranian hardliners, while his spokesman talked of a “rush to war” by the GOP.

But Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn, R-Texas, was full of praise Tuesday.

“He clearly took the initiative on that, yes,” Cornyn said, when asked if he was impressed with Cotton’s leadership. “I think, given his background, he’s a great new member … of the Armed Services Committee.”

Related:

Democrats Blast Cotton, GOP Over Open Letter to Iran

Senate Schedule Changed After Iran Vote Delay

7 Democrats Said to Back New Iran Sanctions Bill

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 8:53 p.m.
Iran, Republicans

March 9, 2015

Republicans Not Rushing to Criticize Menendez

Kirk says reports of indictment could be "politically motivated" leak by the Justice Department. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

Kirk says reports of indictment could be a “politically motivated” leak by the Justice Department. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Sen. Mark S. Kirk became the latest Republican to suggest reports of corruption charges against Sen. Robert Menendez are the result of “politically motivated” leaks by the Justice Department.

Echoing speculation from Sens. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, and Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., Kirk told reporters Monday night that timing of the news about a pending indictment for the New Jersey Democrat could be related to efforts by Menendez to rally support within his party for an Iran sanctions bill.

Full story

Sanders Throws Flames, but Doesn’t Torch Appropriations Process

Sen. Bernie Sanders

Sanders said Obama was “mistaken” in thinking he could negotiate with Republicans in Congress. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Sen. Bernard Sanders promised to live up to his “grumpy grandpa” reputation Monday, giving a gruff rebuke of GOP priorities and also criticizing the president’s approach to working with Congress.

The Vermont independent threw flames at both national political parties during a lunchtime appearance at the National Press Club, calling the Democratic Party “out of touch” and repeatedly referring to the GOP as a “right-wing extremist party.” But he made no promises to torch Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s plans to return to regular order on appropriations from his perch on the Senate Budget Committee.  Full story

March 5, 2015

As Snow Blankets Capitol, ‘the Arctic Senator’ Holds Court

Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, is interviewed by CQ Roll Call in her Hart Building office, February 12, 2015. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Murkowski aims to focus the Senate’s attention to the Arctic. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Last year, as the U.S. prepared to assume its two-year chairmanship of the intergovernmental Arctic Council, Maine independent Angus King decided he wanted to be “the Arctic senator.”

But when he told Alaska’s senior senator about his plan, she shot him down. Sen. Lisa Murkowski told King he could “be the assistant Arctic senator,” King said Thursday, during a hearing on Arctic opportunities that crystallized Murkowski’s perch as the leader on policy issues in the upper latitudes. Full story

By Hannah Hess Posted at 2:42 p.m.
Policy

March 4, 2015

Senate GOP Has No Definite Options in Response to Obamacare Case

Richard Burr VA Secretary Eric Shinseki DAV Veterans

Barrasso, center, said the GOP will continue to prepare for the King v. Burwell ruling. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

The GOP hasn’t “signed off” on a plan to respond should the Supreme Court strike down most health insurance subsidies in King v. Burwell, Republican Policy Committee Chairman John Barrasso said on the eve of oral arguments in the case.

Pressed for details on how a plan the Wyoming Republican offered with two Senate colleagues might compare to the current structure of the Affordable Care Act or a two-part “off-ramp out of Obamacare” put forth by three House GOP committee chairman, Barrasso said discussions were ongoing. He said a transition would likely involve federal funds, and that Republican governors would likely have a say. Full story

By Hannah Hess Posted at 1:20 p.m.
Health Care, Policy
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