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January 26, 2015

Posts by Humberto Sanchez

262 Posts

January 26, 2015

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

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January 22, 2015

Wendell Ford, Longtime Kentucky Senator, Dies at 90

Ford, left, made sure to attend Grimes' election eve rally in November. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Ford, left, made sure to attend Grimes’ election eve rally in November. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Kentucky political legend and purveyor of Southern wit Wendell H. Ford has died.

Ford, 90, had been undergoing treatment for lung cancer.

A Democrat, Ford served in the Senate for 24 years before retiring at the end of his fourth term in 1999. Prior to being elected to the Senate, Ford served as Kentucky governor, lieutenant governor and did a stint in the state Senate.

Full story

January 20, 2015

Harry Reid Back at Capitol, Will Miss State of the Union (Updated)

Harry Reid

Reid makes his way through the Senate Reception Room Tuesday en route to the senate luncheons on his first day in the Capitol since injuring himself in a exercise accident. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

Updated 3:04 p.m. | Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid returned to the Capitol Tuesday to lead the Democratic Caucus lunch, but he won’t be making it to the State of the Union address.

Richard J. Durbin, the Senate minority whip, said the Nevada Democrat was given a standing ovation at the lunch by his colleagues. Full story

January 15, 2015

Ernst Gives GOP #SOTU Rebuttal a Folksy Feel

State of the Union 2015

Ernst heads to the Senate subway following a vote on Jan. 8. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

Republicans are going folksy with their choice to respond to President Obama’s State of the Union address.

Speaker John A. Boehner, R-Ohio, and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., jointly announced at their retreat Thursday that Sen. Joni Ernst, R-Iowa, would deliver the Republicans’ rebuttal.

Ernst, who upset former Rep. Bruce Braley, D-Iowa in 2014 as one of the party’s majority-makers, gained notoriety during her campaign for an ad she ran conflating her childhood on the farm castrating pigs with her ability to cut government spending. Full story

At Retreat, GOP Struggles to Find DHS Funding Exit Strategy

Republicans still don’t have an exit strategy that will allow them to fund the Department of Homeland Security while canceling President Barack Obama’s temporary administrative amnesty for millions of immigrants.

The uncertainty over the future of the DHS funding measure — which must be cleared by the end of next month or partially shut down the department — sets up a tension with the message the GOP is seeking to send from their bicameral retreat that they intend to govern responsibly.

“Obviously we want to show the American people that we can function in a very responsible way, with no stop/starts, no government shutdowns; [that] we have the ability to have foresight … to deal with these issues in a manner that show tremendous responsibility,” said Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn. Full story

By Humberto Sanchez Posted at 1:32 p.m.
Republicans

January 14, 2015

Harry Reid Absent, but Still in Charge

(Courtesy Reid's Office)

(Courtesy Reid’s Office)

As Senate Democrats headed to Baltimore for their retreat, Minority Leader Harry Reid wasn’t with them — but he will be listening in.

Even without a physical presence, the Nevada Democrat is still making the daily decisions about running the caucus — and an aide said late Wednesday he is likely to return to the Capitol next week.

Full story

January 13, 2015

Menendez Staffer Bids Farewell to Hill Life

O'Brien is leaving Capitol Hill to join General Electric. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

O’Brien is leaving Capitol Hill to join General Electric. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

Danny O’Brien never had a career path plotted out — certainly not one that included serving as Senate Foreign Relations Committee staff director for the past two years, in the Clinton White House or in senior Senate posts for now-Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. and Sen. Robert Menendez, D-N.J.

Now, after more than 20 years in the public sector, O’Brien is calling it quits to join General Electric’s global government affairs team. Full story

January 12, 2015

Ted Cruz: Preserve Filibuster, Even For Obamacare Repeal

Cruz wants to keep the filibuster, even though it makes it harder to repeal Obamacare. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

Cruz wants to keep the filibuster, even though it makes it harder to repeal Obamacare. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

There’s a limit to what Sen. Ted Cruz would do to repeal Obamacare.

The Texas Republican said Monday that Republicans should do “everything humanly possible to repeal Obamacare” during a speech at Heritage Action’s annual policy summit. It’s a line he’s used before. But he later added a caveat.

When asked if Republicans should use the “nuclear option” to ditch the filibuster on legislation and get more bills to President Obama’s desk, including a bill repealing Obamacare, Cruz told reporters, “no, we should not.”

“We should preserve the procedural protections in the Senate for the rights of the minority,” he said. Full story

Cornyn: ‘We Learned the Hard Way’

"We have the responsibility to govern," Cornyn said. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

“We have the responsibility to govern,” Cornyn said. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

At the start of the last Congress, John Cornyn wrote an editorial titled “Partial Government Shutdown May Be Needed to Restore Fiscal Sanity.” He’s singing a different tune today.

“I’ve evolved,” the Texas Republican and newly minted Senate majority whip said in an interview last week with CQ Roll Call.

For starters, the memory of the 2013 shutdown over Obamacare instigated by his fellow Texas senator, Ted Cruz, remains fresh. Full story

January 9, 2015

Reid Pushes On Despite Injuries, Reiterates 2016 Run

Reid mets with members of the Senate Democratic leadership at his residence in Washington, D.C. (Courtesy Reid's Office)

Reid meets with members of the Senate Democratic leadership at his D.C. residence earlier this week. (Courtesy Reid’s Office)

Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said an accident he suffered last week that left him with a concussion and broken bones would not affect his ability to lead his caucus and he reiterated his intention to run for re-election.

“I’ve been elected [by Senate Democrats] to run the Senate for two years and I am in the process of getting set up for the next go around,” Reid said in a Friday interview with KNPR in Las Vegas, his first since the accident.

Reid, who is 75, was hurt when a resistance band he was exercising with snapped. The band hit him in the face and he fell, which left him concussed, with broken bones in his face and ribs. Full story

January 8, 2015

Senate Colleagues Pay Tribute to Boxer

Reid and Boxer came to Congress the same year. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Reid and Boxer first arrived in Washington to serve in the House the same year. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Barbara Boxer’s Senate colleagues offered a raft of heartfelt accolades Thursday, after the California Democrat’s announcement she would not seek re-election.

“Senator Barbara Boxer is one of the finest public officials the state of California has seen,” Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said. “Her efforts to combat climate change and ensure we have clean air and clean water will be remembered long past her retirement.”

Full story

Cornyn: Obamacare Repeal Vote Should Wait

(Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

(Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn said he hopes his GOP colleagues hold off on a vote to fully repeal Obamacare until after Republicans have shown they can govern.

“I think it’s important that we demonstrate that we can be productive before we have the inevitable fight over repealing Obamacare,” the Texas Republican said in an interview with CQ Roll Call Wednesday. “We are going to have that vote. But my own preference would be we have it after we’ve been able to demonstrate that we can actually get some things done.”

Asked if he would be opposed to an Obamacare repeal amendment being offered to the bill due on the floor next week to authorize construction of the Keystone XL pipeline, Cornyn said, “I think that would muddle the message.”

Supporters of the Keystone bill have also said that they would prefer that only relevant amendments be offered.

Adding a repeal to any bill would effectively act as a poison pill for Democrats and the White House — and a pure repeal is certain to fall short of the 60 votes necessary to end a filibuster. But Republicans have pledged to try and repeal it anyway.

To that end, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., earlier told CQ Roll Call there will at least be a vote on proceeding to a bill repealing the law.

Cornyn predicted the King v. Burwell case that will be argued before the Supreme Court in March will end up going a long way towards undoing the law.

The court will decide whether the law allows people participating in the federally run health care exchange to get subsidies. A decision denying the subsidies would significantly undermine the law.

“What I expect is that the Supreme Court is going to render a body blow to Obamacare from which I don’t think it will ever recover,” Cornyn said.

He also said there may be bipartisanship on some of the much smaller Affordable Care Act rollbacks, such as a bill that passed the House 412 to 0 on opening day that would encourage the hiring of veterans by exempting them from counting toward the employer mandate under Obamacare.

“So I think there are going to be some parts of repealing Obamacare that are going to be consensus, bipartisan items,” Cornyn said.

Some of those bills with bipartisan backers face opposition from the White House. That’s true in the case of a measure that would define full time employment as 40 hours per week for the purposes of the Affordable Care Act.

“Our goal is simple. We want to protect part-time workers from having their hours reduced and their paychecks cut because of the definition in this law,” said lead Senate sponsor Susan Collins, R-Maine.

That bill faces a White House veto threat and received a fairly ugly CBO score saying it would boost the deficit, result in more people uninsured and on Medicaid and potentially reduce, not increase, the number of hours worked by full-time workers.

Ahead of a House vote, the Office of Management and Budget said “it would significantly increase the deficit, reduce the number of Americans with employer-based health insurance coverage, and create incentives for employers to shift their employees to part-time work — causing the problem it intends to solve.”

And Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said Democrats would seek to block efforts to roll back the health care law, financial services reform or tampering with access to the Internet.

“Any attempt to erode protections for working American families — the dismantling of Dodd-Frank, the weakening of net neutrality rules, or the Republicans’ never-ending quest to repeal the Affordable Care Act — will be met with swift and unified Democratic opposition,” Reid said in a statement read on the floor by Senate Minority Whip Richard J. Durbin, D-Ill.

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.

Joe Manchin Is Open for Legislative Business

Manchin, center, set to thrive in dealmaker role after GOP takeover. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Manchin, center, set to thrive in dealmaker role after GOP takeover. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Sen. Joe Manchin III is ready to make a deal.

“Always been,” the moderate West Virginia Democrat said in an interview just off the Senate floor.

Manchin — who famously shot up with a hunting rifle a Democratic bill to cap greenhouse gas emissions in an ad during his 2010 campaign — has made no secret about being frustrated by the gridlock that has paralyzed the Senate in recent years and he is looking forward to passing legislation. Full story

January 6, 2015

A Battered Reid Stays on Message (Video)

After missing the opening of the Senate, a battered Minority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said in an online video message that Democrats would continue to fight for the middle class.

“We understand the rich are getting richer, the poor are getting poorer [and] the middle class is being squeezed literally out of existence,” Reid said.” And we are going to do everything we can to fulfill the expectation the middle class has.”

Full story

Keystone Debate to Test Waters of New Senate

(Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

(Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

Sen. Mitch McConnell has waited years for the moment he’ll take the reins of a dysfunctional chamber and try and show Republicans can govern.

He’ll face tests right off the bat — from how to handle the filibuster rules changes that have divided his conference to keeping the Senate on topic as he looks to clear a series of bipartisan bills to kick off the year, starting with approving the Keystone XL pipeline.

“We’ll hope that senators on both sides will offer energy-related amendments, but there will be no effort to try to … micromanage the amendment process,” the Kentucky Republican said last month, when announcing his plan to bring Keystone to the floor first.

It’s part of a plan, nearly a year in the making, to get the new majority off to a fast start. Full story

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