Roll Call: Latest News on Capitol Hill, Congress, Politics and Elections
December 18, 2014

Posts by Humberto Sanchez

242 Posts

December 17, 2014

Rubio Threatens To Unravel Obama Cuba Deal

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Rubio adjusts his tie ahead of a press conference blasting President Barack Obama’s deal with Cuba. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., excoriated President Obama’s plan to normalize relations with Cuba and threatened to hold up efforts to confirm an ambassador and fund an embassy.

“This president is the single worst negotiator we have had in the White House in my lifetime who has basically given the Cuban government everything it asked for and received no assurances of any advances of democracy and freedom in return,” ripped Rubio, who may run for president in 2016, at a press conference. Full story

December 16, 2014

Democrats Close Out Majority With Wins on Nominations

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Reid said that the Democrats could have accomplished more during the lame-duck session. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

“This will be the last vote of this Congress,” Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., announced shortly before 9:30 p.m.

The Senate’s end-of-session mechanics kicked into high gear Tuesday, with the chamber confirming a slew of President Barack Obama’s judicial and executive nominations and clearing a one-year retroactive extension of lapsed tax breaks that will resolve the issue for just weeks.

Reid, who will become the minority leader in the 114th Congress, told reporters he thinks the Democrats could have seen more accomplished in the lame-duck session.

“There’s a lot more we could and should have done,” Reid said, adding, “We did OK this time, but we’ve had better.”

Full story

Heller Pledges Yucca Mountain Will Stay Dead Despite Leaving Energy Committee

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The Yucca Mountain fight continues as committee assignments for the 114th Congress raise questions about what’s next for the issue. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Sen. Dean Heller, R-Nev., pledged that a proposal to build a nuclear waste depository at Yucca Mountain would remain dead, even though he is stepping away from the Energy and Natural Resources Committee to join the Finance Committee.

“I don’t think it changes the dynamics,” Heller said of his new committee assignment for the 114th Congress.

The Nevada congressional delegation, led by outgoing Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, has been effective using every means available, including the power of the purse and regulatory agencies, to prevent the project from resurfacing in the state.

Full story

Durbin and Schumer Split Up

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

The Senate’s longstanding D.C. roommates have gone their separate ways.

Democratic Sens. Richard J. Durbin of Illinois and Charles E. Schumer of New York had long rented space in a Capitol Hill row house owned by Rep. George Miller.

The retirement of the California Democrat left the two Senate Democratic leaders with a problem.

Full story

December 15, 2014

Kirk Backs Murthy, Defies NRA

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Kirk defied the NRA to help confirm a surgeon general. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Sen. Mark S. Kirk, R-Ill., defied the National Rifle Association to confirm Vivek Murthy as surgeon general.

The Murthy confirmation was delayed for months due to opposition by the NRA and most Republicans, primarily over his support for gun control measures. But Kirk’s vote helped put him over the top with a 51 to 43 vote Monday.

Full story

Cruz Doesn’t Believe Governors Have Edge Over Senators in Presidential Races

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Cruz says governors aren’t better as 2016 contenders. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, doesn’t believe governors have an advantage over senators when it comes to winning the 2016 GOP presidential nomination.

“It’s an advantage only if you think that the American people are looking for someone who is not standing up and leading on the great challenges of the day,” Cruz said Monday in an appearance on the “Mark Levin Show.” Full story

By Humberto Sanchez Posted at 9:18 p.m.
2016, Ted Cruz

Democratic Senator Opposes Murthy Nomination

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(Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Sen. Joe Manchin III, D-W.Va., said Monday he would vote against the confirmation of Vivek Murthy to be surgeon general, citing concerns over political positions the nominee has taken.

“Our Surgeon General serves as America’s leader on public health services and chooses what health policies we should prioritize,” Manchin said in a release. “For that reason, I don’t believe it’s appropriate for America’s number one doctor to participate in political activism.”

Murthy’s nomination has been clouded by his support for gun control policies, which spurred the National Rifle Association to voice vehement opposition to his confirmation. Full story

December 14, 2014

Saturday Session a Preview of What’s to Come

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(Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

At the end of a rare Saturday session, Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., was direct when asked if Democrats, led by outgoing Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., had gotten the better of Republicans.

“I think most Republicans think that Christmas came early for Democrats,” Graham said “I haven’t seen Harry smile this much in years, and I didn’t particularly like it.”

His comments came after Democrats set the groundwork on as many as 24 nominations, many which Republicans opposed, before clearing the massive $1.013 trillion spending package, ending the threat of a government shutdown. Full story

December 13, 2014

Senate Avoids Shutdown, Passes Cromnibus in Bipartisan Vote

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Reid, left, and Mitch McConnell, are tested as the government gets closer to shutting down. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

Updated 11:26 p.m. | The Senate has avoided a government shutdown, easily clearing the $1.1 trillion “cromnibus” funding the government through September.

The government was scheduled to shut down at midnight Saturday, but the Senate first cleared a four-day stopgap measure by voice vote and later reached a deal to clear the cromnibus after lawmakers in both parties sparred over who was to blame for the impending shutdown theatrics.

The final vote was 56-40 in an extremely bipartisan vote, with 21 Democrats, 18 Republicans and independent Bernard Sanders of Vermont voting no.

Republican no votes: Bob Corker of Tennessee; Michael D. Crapo of Idaho; Ted Cruz of Texas; Jeff Flake of Arizona; Charles E. Grassley of Iowa; Dean Heller of Nevada, Ron Johnson of Wisconsin, Mike Lee of Utah; John McCain of Arizona; Jerry Moran of Kansas; Rand Paul of Kentucky; Rob Portman of Ohio; Jim Risch of Idaho; Marco Rubio of Florida; Tim Scott of South Carolina; Jeff Sessions of Alabama; Richard C. Shelby of Alabama; and David Vitter of Louisiana.

Democratic no votes: Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut; Cory Booker of New Jersey; Barbara Boxer of California; Sherrod Brown of Ohio; Maria Cantwell of Washington; Al Franken of Minnesota; Kirsten Gillibrand of New York; Tom Harkin of Iowa; Mazie K. Hirono of Hawaii; Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota; Carl Levin of Michigan; Joe Manchin III of West Virginia; Ed Markey of Massachusetts; Claire McCaskill of Missouri; Robert Menendez of New Jersey; Jeff Merkley of Oregon; Jack Reed of Rhode Island; Tester of Montana; Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island and Ron Wyden of Oregon.

In the key vote earlier Saturday night, the Senate easily cleared the 60-vote threshold to stop a filibuster attempt, 77-19. Thirteen Republicans, five Democrats and Sen. Bernard Sanders, I-Vt., voted to filibuster the bill.

The Senate then thumped an effort by Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, to raise a point of order over the issue of the President Barack Obama’s executive action on immigration. Cruz’s effort failed on a similarly lopsided 22-74 vote. 

The Senate had been stuck in the midst of numerous procedural votes on nominations — with a weekend session forced by conservatives against the wishes of many in their own party. Full story

December 12, 2014

Senate GOP Leaders Want to Wrap Up Lame Duck ASAP

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Republican leaders are ready to end the 113th Congress. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

Senate Republican leaders are pushing to wrap up the lame-duck session as soon as possible to limit the time available to outgoing Majority Leader Harry Reid to clear nominations.

“I think there are reasons why it’s probably helpful to get out of here,” said Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, who will be majority whip in the next Congress. “No. 1 of which is Sen. Reid can continue to move nominations through as long as we are here.” Full story

Paul and Rubio Spar Over Foreign Policy, ISIS AUMF

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Marco Rubio has staked out a more hawkish foreign policy than rival Rand Paul. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

The nation may have gotten a little taste of 2016 Republican presidential politics Thursday as Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky squared off with Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida on foreign policy.

At a Senate Foreign Relations Committee markup, Paul, a potential 2106 presidential candidate, offered an amendment setting geographic limits to an Authorization for Use of Military Force cleared by the committee that would set parameters on the nation’s fight against the terror group known as Islamic State, ISIS, or ISIL.

The amendment failed on a 13 to 5 vote. But the preceding debate, which was respectful, saw Paul and Rubio, who may also seek the Republican nomination for president, disagree over how much Congress should rein in the commander in chief.

The split highlights a debate within the party over America’s role abroad that will likely play out in the run up to 2016. Full story

December 11, 2014

McConnell Chief Sharon Soderstrom Wields Influence Behind the Scenes

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Soderstrom has a low profile and big influence as McConnell’s leadership chief of staff. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

In her first stint in a majority leader’s office, Sharon Soderstrom, chief of staff to incoming Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, used to sit quietly in the back of the chamber watching the floor.

Her unassuming presence belied the significance of her work.

“If she would see a couple of members talking where one maybe had taken a position that I didn’t agree with as leader and talking to one that I thought was with us, she’d come let me know that there was a conversation going on and I’d better get over there and find out what was happening,” said former Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott, R-Miss.

Lott had hired her away from Sen. Dan Coats, R-Ind., in 1999 to be a senior policy adviser in his leader’s office.

And it was her ability to read the ebb and flow of the Senate that earned Soderstrom senior positions in two other consecutive Republican leadership offices.

Now as McConnell’s right hand, Soderstrom will play a major role in the operation of the Senate and every piece of legislation that comes to the floor in the next Congress.

The Kentucky Republican appointed Soderstrom chief in late 2010, making her the highest ranking female aide in Congress.

“Sharon is brilliant,” McConnell said in a statement. “She has a deep understanding of the Senate, she’s an absolute delight to work with and I can’t imagine anybody I’d rather have running point as we begin our new majority.”

She’s notoriously press averse and declined to be interviewed for this article.

As chief of staff in the Republican majority, she will have a broad portfolio that entails office and personnel responsibilities, while making sure the entire enterprise is working at a high level.

Soderstrom will also help the GOP develop and settle on strategy, as she did during the debate in McConnell’s office over whether to call Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. during the fiscal cliff talks at the end of 2012. Biden and McConnell ended up brokering the deal that averted going over the cliff.

“That was clearly a big decision that altered the trajectory of that negotiation,” said Rohit Kumar, who previously served as deputy chief of staff for McConnell and who is now at PricewaterhouseCoopers. “It was a contentious decision discussed amongst the senior staff … and if she had said, ‘No, that’s a bad idea,’ it would have carried great weight in the leader’s mind.”

Soderstrom is also keen at knowing how senators might vote and anticipating how events may be resolved.

“I used to describe the Senate as a living, breathing creature and it has a pulse and it has a tempo to it,” Lott said. “Not a lot of people sense that or get a feeling of about what’s about to happen on an issue and she’s really good at that.”

Soderstrom was initially overlooked when she was searching for work on Capitol Hill, according to Coats.

“When I was in the House of Representatives, she first came to my office just after graduating from [the University of Virginia], in three years, by the way, instead of four, and the biggest mistake I made, because I had filled up my staff, was not finding a place for Sharon,” Coats said.

She eventually got a job with Sen. Paul Trible, R-Va., according to Coats, who got his opportunity to hire her as a legislative director in 1990, in his first stint in the Senate. “I tried to remedy my mistake,” Coats said. Soderstrom rose to chief of staff.

Soderstrom served a two-year stint as Republican staff director of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee before being hired in 2004 as deputy chief of staff under Sen. Bill Frist, R-Tenn., who was elected majority leader after Lott. McConnell first hired her as his deputy two years later.

Her longevity stands out in a Senate where there’s been much turnover among staff and senators.

“She has a perspective that rivals that of senators in terms of her longevity,” Kumar said. “In that world having somebody who’s been there for a longer period of time” lends “an important perspective to the institution … and it allows her to be an ever-more effective chief of staff to the leader.”

Kyle Simmons, who served as McConnell’s chief of staff before Soderstrom, said she was so important that when McConnell first put his leadership team together, “We started by recruiting Sharon first and then building around her.”

“She was that important and that experienced and had performed at a very high level in previous leader offices,” Simmons said, “[so] we felt [she] would give us a running start to be effective from day one.”

Simmons said Soderstrom has the three pillars needed to be successful in the job: the trust of McConnell, the respect of the conference and the trust of her fellow staffers, “who rely on her judgment and most importantly her experience.”

Soderstrom is also known as a quick study of the myriad policy issues that come through the leader’s office.

“In the leader’s office you have to be an expert on everything; everybody is going to come through the front door with whatever policy matter they have and expect you to up to speed on it and understand where they are coming from and she is so good at that,” said David Schiappa, who was secretary for the minority under McConnell and now is at the Duberstein Group.

Also known as a great boss, particularly to younger staff, Soderstrom typically lets co-workers go home on holidays to be with their family, while she stays behind and minds the office.

“Just from a personal standpoint, she takes a great interest in others’ lives up there,” Schiappa said. “When we were going to be there late … her first thoughts to me was I’ve got to make sure [my staff] get out of here … she was concerned about the people.”

Related:

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

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December 10, 2014

Elizabeth Warren Channels Ted Cruz on ‘Cromnibus’

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Elizabeth Warren is rallying House Democrats to kill the cromnibus unless a provision benefiting banks is stripped.

One of the Senate’s leading liberals is borrowing a page from the playbook of Texas GOP Sen. Ted Cruz.

Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., is pushing to strike out language from the “cromnibus” spending bill unveiled Tuesday that would roll back restrictions on “swaps” transactions included in the 2010 financial regulatory overhaul known as Dodd-Frank. Repealing the “push-out” provision would mean that certain derivatives could again be held in bank units with federal deposit insurance.

Using a strategy sometimes employed by Cruz for entirely different policy reasons, Warren said that with the $1.013 trillion spending package first being considered by the House, her counterparts there should act to strip it out.

Full story

Harry Reid Making Most of Final Days in Majority (Video)

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(Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid isn’t going quietly into the night.

The Nevada Democrat and former professional pugilist is racking up legislative victories in his final days on the job, ahead of what is likely to be another tough re-election campaign in 2016 and at least two years with “minority” in his title.

In recent days, Reid notched a victory in his never-ending fight to keep Yucca Mountain from becoming the nation’s nuclear waste dump, and he is maneuvering to pass a series of land bills that have long been a priority for him and other members of the Nevada delegation.

Reid also helped secure reauthorization of the Travel Promotion Act in the catch-all spending bill known as the “cromnibus.”

All are important to Nevada, and that could benefit Reid when he faces the voters two years hence.

Full story

Senate GOP Wrestles With Whether to Undo the Nuclear Option

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Graham wants Republicans to defuse the nuclear option and return the 60-vote threshold on nominations. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

After crying foul when Democrats used the nuclear option to essentially eliminate the filibuster for most nominations, Senate Republicans are wrestling with whether to change it back.

Republicans, who will take over the majority next Congress, met Tuesday evening to discuss the matter, but reached no decision on a course of action. Full story

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