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November 21, 2014

Posts by Niels Lesniewski

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November 21, 2014

Parents of DACA Children Need Act of Congress, White House Says

President Barack Obama’s sweeping immigration action leaves millions still at risk of deportation — including one group activists had long hoped Obama would protect — the parents of the so-called “Dreamers” he granted relief to two years ago.

The White House’s lawyers concluded Obama didn’t have the authority to do so without Congress, a verdict that’s not sitting well with some of his own supporters.

“Today’s victory is tremendous, but to be real, it is incomplete. Millions of Dreamers have siblings who have U.S. citizenship or green cards so their parents will qualify for this new program – and hundreds of thousands more Dreamers will now be eligible for protection,” United We Dream Managing Director Cristina Jimenez said in a statement Thursday evening. “But too many of our parents, LGBTQ brothers and sisters and friends were left out. United We Dream doesn’t agree with that decision and we are determined to fight for their protection. Our community sticks together.”

As he headed to Las Vegas Friday along with Democratic lawmakers including Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada and Sen. Robert Menendez of New Jersey, he will face an audience that’s expected to include some of the parents of DACA recipients who will remain at some risk of deportation.

Democrats had been cautioned in advance that Obama’s executive action would not apply more broadly to the parents of Dreamers, the group of undocumented people who came to America as children, because the administration’s own lawyers didn’t believe that move could be stacked on top of the existing deferred action program.

“Here’s the problem we have: I would like to see … all of the families of DREAMers be protected, but because DACA was executive action, it’s the understanding, or at least it’s an opinion of the White House counsel that you cannot build on an executive action, so they had to be careful in the way that this was written to comply with all the precedents and law on the subject,” Durbin told reporters before Obama’s speech Thursday.

Durbin added that he trusted the judgment of the administration on the legal case. It’s a limit that the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel outlined in a Nov. 19 memo released publicly Thursday evening.

“Granting deferred action to the parents of DACA recipients would not operate as an interim measure for individuals to whom Congress has given a prospective entitlement to lawful status. Such parents have no special prospect of obtaining visas, since Congress has not enabled them to self-petition … or enabled their undocumented children to petition for visas on their behalf,” the OLC memo said, noting that the Department of Homeland Security “remains free to consider whether to grant deferred action to individual parents of DACA recipients on an ad hoc basis.”

The memo, which details the administration’s case for the legality of the underlying program, was something at least some Republicans on Capitol Hill thought they might never see.

“Of course they should, and they’re not going to,” Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., said earlier in the week when asked if the administration should release legal opinions behind the president’s action. “That’s one of the most blatant abuses of power that I’ve seen in recent years.”

But in fact the Justice Department ultimately did release the memo, and the White House has been aggressive in highlighting comparisons between what’s being rolled out this week and actions by prior Republican administrations. A letter from 10 prominent legal scholars, including Eric Posner and Larry Tribe, circulated Thursday evening, to media outlets including CQ Roll Call, also made the case for the legal grounding of the president’s move.

“While we differ among ourselves on many issues relating to Presidential power and immigration policy, we are all of the view that these actions are lawful,” the letter said.

“Both the setting of removal priorities and the use of deferred action are well-established ways in which the executive has exercised discretion in using its removal authority,” the letter said. “These means of exercising discretion in the immigration context have been used many times by the executive branch under Presidents of both parties, and Congress has explicitly and implicitly endorsed their use.”

Republican lawmakers, of course, have an entirely different view, but for advocates left unsatisfied, a reading of the legal case seems clear that the next big step must be legislative rather than administrative.

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November 20, 2014

Senate’s 2015 Calendar Features Fuller Weeks, Fewer Breaks

senate luncheons009 111814 445x296 Senates 2015 Calendar Features Fuller Weeks, Fewer Breaks

(Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

In addition to longer workweeks, it appears the Senate will be in session more frequently in 2015.

As expected, the Senate will kick off work in the 114th Congress on Jan. 6, and the chamber isn’t expected to take a full week break until Presidents Day. That’s according to a draft calendar obtained by CQ Roll Call that shows the Senate in recess the third week in February, for the two weeks around Easter Sunday (which falls on April 5), and the weeks of Memorial Day and the Fourth of July.

Full story

Durbin Says Omnibus in Progress, Warns Against Defense CR

senate luncheons002 111814 445x296 Durbin Says Omnibus in Progress, Warns Against Defense CR

(Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

Appropriators appear to be making good progress on behind-the-scenes negotiations on a big omnibus bill to fund the government for the rest of the fiscal year.

That’s the word from Sen. Richard J. Durbin of Illinois, the No. 2 Democrat in the Senate who also happens to wield the gavel of the Appropriations subcommittee on Defense.

“I just finished a Defense Appropriation subcommittee joint meeting this morning. We’ve agreed on virtually everything, but four or five issues,” he said. “Those five issues are going upstairs, which is not unusual, to be decided at the full committee level. I hear that they’re going to meet [on] Dec. 1, Democrats and Republicans, House and Senate, at the highest level to resolve these outstanding issues. We’re moving forward on a good program to get an omnibus done.”

Full story

McCain, Corker Doubtful of White House’s ISIS Strategy, Intent for AUMF

911 Remembrance Ceremony 14 091113 445x317 McCain, Corker Doubtful of White Houses ISIS Strategy, Intent for AUMF

McCain and Corker are skeptical of the Obama administration’s intent for an AUMF. (Douglas Graham/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Leaving Wednesday’s closed briefing on the fight against the Islamic State, the terror group also known as ISIS or ISIL, Sen. John McCain said he doubted the Obama administration really wanted to have a new Authorization for Use of Military Force at all.

“They keep talking about the AUMF. They haven’t, they haven’t sent over anything. I’ve been involved in numerous of these crises where they send over a request for the authorization for the use of military force,” the Arizona Republican said. “You can’t believe they really want it if they don’t even send over a proposal.”

Full story

November 19, 2014

Grassley Says Obama’s Immigration Action Worse Than King George (Video)

grassley 066 061213 445x285 Grassley Says Obamas Immigration Action Worse Than King George (Video)

(Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

The next chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee said President Barack Obama’s expected executive actions would go beyond the dreams of even King George III.

As Democrats were gathering at the White House for a meeting with Obama ahead of the formal announcement of the immigration moves in a Thursday evening address to the nation, Sen. Charles E. Grassley, R-Iowa, was on the floor of the Senate speaking about a series of administration actions that Republicans have found objectionable, ranging from the use of recess appointments to the transfer of five Taliban prisoners out of the prison camp at Guantánamo Bay for the release of Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl.

“It is no exaggeration to say that the freedom of the American people is at stake. That’s what the framers believed,” Grassley said, before quoting from James Madison in Federalist 51.

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Mike Enzi Challenging Jeff Sessions for Budget Gavel

InternetSalesTax 05 042313 445x307 Mike Enzi Challenging Jeff Sessions for Budget Gavel

Enzi wants to lead the Budget Committee. (CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Senate Republicans have a battle for a gavel.

Asked if he was interested in becoming Budget chairman when the Republicans take control of the Senate next year, Michael B. Enzi of Wyoming told reporters simply, “Yes.”

Enzi has seniority over the current ranking member, Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., and a contest had been rumored in recent weeks. The two senators had previously confirmed conversations about the matter.

Full story

Negotiations Over CIA Torture Report Nearing End

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(Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Senate Intelligence Chairwoman Dianne Feinstein expects her panel’s long-delayed report on the CIA’s use of torture to be released before Republicans take over the chamber, signaling to reporters there’s one sticking point left.

“Well, no one wants to move that more quickly than I do,” said the California Democrat. “We are down to essentially one item in the redaction. It happens to be a very sensitive and important item.” She didn’t elaborate.

Feinstein has been negotiating with the White House for months over redactions to the report’s executive summary, with Democrats on the panel routinely ridiculing efforts by the CIA to redact large portions of the report. Full story

November 18, 2014

Loretta Lynch Nomination Will Wait as Reid Seeks Broader Deal (Video)

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Lynch’s nomination as attorney general will wait until Republicans control the Senate. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid is hoping Republicans will play ball on confirming a number of President Barack Obama’s nominations before they take over the majority in the next Congress, but that list won’t include the next attorney general.

The Nevada Democrat said the White House wasn’t pushing for confirmation of Loretta Lynch, the Brooklyn-based U.S. Attorney tapped by Obama to become the next attorney general, before Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., becomes the man in charge of the Senate floor schedule.

“My personal feeling is that the White House has, through intermediaries with me, have said don’t be pushing that, we can do it after the first of the year,” Reid said.

The 114th Congress technically won’t start until a few days into the new year, but as a practical matter, Reid’s comments suggest Lynch will face a GOP-led Judiciary Committee after Obama’s expected executive action on immigration. And that could threaten her confirmation.

Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, who will be majority whip in the new Congress, suggested that the immigration announcement could impede movement on an assortment of Senate business, including nominees like Lynch.

“As some have said before me it’s going to poison the well,” said Cornyn, himself a member of the Judiciary Committee. “This place is built on some modicum of cooperation, but if the president is not going to cooperate with us it’s going to make it much harder for us to persuade members of Congress to cooperate with him on everything from nominations to legislation.” Full story

Cruz: Obama is No ‘Monarch,’ Pushes Short-Term Government Funding (Video)

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Cruz  is in favor of a short-term approach to funding the government. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Sen. Ted Cruz doesn’t know if his effort to push off the debate on funding the government into next year will prove successful, but the Texas Republican is sure making an effort.

“Time will tell,” Cruz said when asked if he thought momentum was building behind using a short-term stopgap spending measure next month. “I think a long-term omnibus or CR makes no sense. It hands over the decision-making authority of Congress to the president. I think what makes sense is a simple short-term CR to get out of the lame duck and into early next year.”

Cruz said the Republican wave was a referendum on the expected executive actions on immigration policy by Obama.

Full story

November 13, 2014

White House Praises McConnell on Myanmar

medal001 091912 445x294 White House Praises McConnell on Myanmar

Suu Kyi received a Congressional Gold Medal at a ceremony in the Capitol in September 2012. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

The man elected by his conference to be the next Senate majority leader actually won praise from the White House earlier in the day in Myanmar for his longstanding support of pro-democracy interests in that country.

The political situation in Myanmar, which is also known as Burma, has been a priority for more than 20 years for the Kentucky Republican, who is set to become the majority leader when the GOP takes over in January.

“I will take the opportunity, since we are back on Burma, and we were talking about Sen. [Mitch] McConnell earlier, to note that this is an issue where we’ve had important bipartisan interest in the Burma policy for many years. And the sanctions regime that has been put in place was the work of bipartisanship. And as we’ve relaxed sanctions, we’ve consulted closely with Congress,” Deputy National Security Adviser Ben Rhodes told reporters traveling with President Barack Obama in the capital city of Naypyidaw.

“Sen. McConnell has been a champion of democracy here in Burma. This is an area where I think we certainly believe he’s shown leadership. And he has, of course, a close relationship to Aung San Suu Kyi, as well, and follows events here in the country,” Rhodes said. “So I did want to note that this is an area where we very much welcome the bipartisan interest, including from the next Senate majority leader.”

Senate observers know McConnell’s interest in Myanmar well. Reporters at the University of Louisville for McConnell’s post-election news conference were invited to tour an exhibit at the McConnell Center about the Republican senator and his wife, former Labor Secretary Elaine L. Chao. Among the museum’s most prized possessions is a handwritten letter to McConnell from Burmese political leader and Nobel laureate Suu Kyi, who spent many years under house arrest and faced other forms of retribution from the long-ruling junta.

Obama is scheduled to hold a meeting with Suu Kyi Friday in Myanmar. He is in the country for the East Asia summit, and ahead of the trip, Obama answered questions from The Irrawaddy, a publication that covers Myanmar.

“Burma is still at the beginning of a long and hard journey of renewal and reconciliation. On the one hand, since my last visit there has been some progress, including economic reforms and welcomed political steps, including the release of additional political prisoners, a process of constitutional reform, and ceasefire agreements toward ending the many conflicts that have plagued your country,” Obama said. “On the other hand, progress has not come as fast as many had hoped when the transition began four years ago. In some areas there has been a slowdown in reforms, and even some steps backward.”

“One of the main messages that I’ll deliver on this visit is that the government of Myanmar has a responsibility to ensure the safety and well-being of all people in the country, and that the fundamental human rights and freedoms of all people should be respected. That’s the only way reforms can stay on track. That’s the only way that this country is going to realize greater prosperity and its rightful place in the region and the world. That would be a success, above all, for the people of Myanmar, and that would be good for the United States and the world,” Obama added.

McConnell was the longtime author of sanctions legislation against the repressive military regime, working frequently with California Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein on the effort. In a policy speech about Myanmar in July, McConnell expressed concern about the possibility that Suu Kyi could be blocked from the political process and said that while the country has taken a marked turn in the direction of democracy, ”to many Burma of late appears stalled amidst a score of pressing challenges.”

“The Burmese Government should understand that the United States, and the Senate specifically, will watch very closely at how Burmese authorities conduct the 2015 parliamentary elections as a critical marker of the sincerity and the sustainability of democratic reform in Burma,” McConnell said on the Senate floor in July. With McConnell becoming the majority leader, that’s only likely to become more true.

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Reid to Obama: Wait on Immigration Move (Updated)

reid 259 091814 445x317 Reid to Obama: Wait on Immigration Move (Updated)

(Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Updated Nov. 12 4:21 p.m. |Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said Thursday he would like President Barack Obama to wait for Congress to pass legislation funding the government before he takes executive action giving deportation relief to undocumented immigrants.

“The president said he is going to do the executive action,” the Nevada Democrat said heading in to a Democratic lunch. “The question is when. It’s up to him. I’d like to get the finances of this country out of the way before he does it. But it’s up to him.”

Reid said the president was aware of his preference.

Republicans have warned the president not to take unilateral executive action and have raised the possibility that such a move could threaten work on an omnibus spending bill currently being developed by the House and Senate Appropriations Committees. Full story

Harry Reid Unveils New Leadership Team, Strategy (Video)

reid031114 445x298 Harry Reid Unveils New Leadership Team, Strategy (Video)

(Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Updated Nov. 13 7:02 |Sen. Harry Reid survived a four-hour meeting with his Democratic flock with his job as their leader intact, albeit without unanimous support, as he debuted three new members of his leadership team and promised to work with Republicans to legislate.

His leadership team has three new members: Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., a moderate who is the new head of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee; Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., who is chairwoman of Steering and Outreach; and Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., who has a newly created post to reach out to the progressive wing of the party.

The new team gives both moderates and progressives a seat at the leadership table, though the top positions in the party have not changed a bit.

“We have to continue fighting for the middle class,” Reid said. “The middle class is what is concerning every one of my senators. They’re not getting a fair shot and we are going to do everything we can in the 114th Congress to make sure the middle class of this great country of ours has a fair shot.”

Full story

Elizabeth Warren Gets Seat at Leadership Table

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Warren will get a new role in Democratic leadership. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Sen. Elizabeth Warren will get a newly created seat at the Democratic leadership table.

A Democratic source familiar with the leadership’s thinking told CQ Roll Call the Massachusetts senator’s role will involve outreach to progressives. A second source indicated the position would not supplant another member of the leadership.

Bringing Warren into the weekly leadership meetings could put her brand of populist economic messaging front and center as Democrats look to regain their majority in 2016.

Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., has had high praise for Warren, and adding her to the team gives him a chance to tell his flock that he’s making changes after last week’s midterm disaster cost him his majority leader title.

Sen. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota, meanwhile, is expected to take the steering and outreach slot now occupied by Sen. Mark Begich of Alaska, who was ousted by Republican Dan Sullivan on Nov. 4. It’s not clear the timing of when that pick will occur.

Steven T. Dennis contributed to this report.

Related:

Elizabeth Warren Leads Progressive Charge, But Has GOP Admirers Too

Elizabeth Warren Could Join Democratic Leadership

Democrats Run From Harry Reid

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Mitch McConnell Unanimously Elected Majority Leader by GOP (Updated) (Video)

mcconnell 036 030612 442x335 Mitch McConnell Unanimously Elected Majority Leader by GOP (Updated) (Video)

Mitch McConnell (CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Updated 6:10 pm. | Senate Republicans have unanimously elected Mitch McConnell to be majority leader.

There was little drama heading into the vote, as no one had emerged to challenge the Kentucky Republican after the party’s triumph in last week’s midterm elections.

Sen. Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire nominated McConnell, according to a GOP source inside the room, and Sen.-elect Tom Cotton of Arkansas gave a seconding speech. He won a voice vote without opposition and was treated to a standing ovation.

Sen. John Cornyn of Texas was likewise selected, by voice vote without contention, as the party’s whip. He was nominated by Sen. Patrick J. Toomey of Pennsylvania and seconded by Sen. Susan Collins of Maine. Full story

Obama Veto Pen Could Soon Get a Workout

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Inhofe plans to force votes to block EPA climate change regulations. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

President Barack Obama might want to find some veto pens. A lot of them. After setting a modern record for fewest vetoes — just two early on in his presidency — thanks to a Democratic Senate, Republicans could soon be sending him reams of legislative cannon fodder.

While conventional wisdom suggests relatively few controversial bills would head to the president’s desk, because after all, Republicans will need at least six senators who caucus with the Democrats to beat back filibusters — Republicans can bypass filibusters in multiple ways if Democrats try to gum up the works.

Republicans have already talked about using the budget reconciliation rules to bypass filibusters so they can put spending and tax bills on the president’s desk with their priorities — including potentially an attempt to gut much of Obamacare.

They also plan to use another power to strike at the heart of Obama’s pen-and-phone agenda. Under the Congressional Review Act, the House and Senate can vote to block recently enacted regulations, and such votes cannot be filibustered.

Back in 2011, Senate Republicans forced a vote on a resolution to block the Federal Communications Commission’s rules on “net neutrality.” Then-Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, R-Texas, offered the disapproval resolution, which Democrats rebuffed, 46-52. Should the FCC move ahead in the coming year on rules that are in line with what Obama and the White House outlined Monday, Republicans could have the votes to send a disapproval resolution to the president’s desk.

That’s after Republicans from all corners panned Obama’s announcement Monday that he supported viewing consumer broadband as a utility and encouraged FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler to ensure net neutrality.

“The president’s call for the FCC to use Title II to create new net neutrality restrictions would turn the Internet into a government-regulated utility and stifle our nation’s dynamic and robust Internet sector with rules written nearly 80 years ago for plain old telephone service,” said Senate Republican Conference Chairman John Thune. “The president’s stale thinking would invite legal and marketplace uncertainty and perpetuate what has needlessly become a politically corrosive policy debate.”

The South Dakota Republican is in line to take the gavel of the Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee next year. That panel’s jurisdiction includes telecommunications policy.

The EPA — and climate change regulations in particular — also face incoming fire from Sen. James M. Inhofe, the Oklahoma Republican in line to regain the chairmanship of the Environment and Public Works Committee.

“Last year, Senator Inhofe said he would be using the Congressional Review Act on any major EPA regulation that comes out under the Obama Administration, and I expect you will only see more momentum for this now that the Republicans have the majority in the Senate,” Inhofe spokesperson Donelle Harder told CQ Roll Call in an email. “There is widespread concern for how the EPA’s overbearing regulations are going to impact American job creation and the affordability and reliability of our nation’s electricity grid.”

Inhofe himself said as much back in April, when he pledged to use the CRA to try to force floor votes on EPA regulations.

“I’m committed to using the Congressional Review Act on any significant EPA regulation that comes out until the EPA gets honest about the cost accounting it uses in its rules. Because if the agency is not going to be honest, then the EPA, the President, and the Members who support their policies need to own them, which in the Senate means up or down votes on whether to keep or get rid of the EPA’s regulations,” Inhofe said.

Asked about the prospects of the Obama administration facing efforts to upend environmental policy through the CRA, EPA spokeswoman Liz Purchia said in an email that the public supported the agency’s efforts.

“A healthy environment for our children should garner bipartisan support, not be a political football. Poll after poll shows that a strong majority of Americans support EPA’s effort to protect public health. Across the country, citizens want EPA to safeguard clean air and clean water, which are essential building blocks for a strong economy,” Purchia said. “We don’t need to choose between a healthy environment and a healthy economy because the two go hand in hand.”

Opposition to EPA emissions proposals affecting coal-fired power plants was one of the recurring themes of the re-election campaign of the man set to become majority leader next year, Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, and the EPA is sure to face the prospect of spending restrictions and policy riders through the appropriations process as well.

Obama’s newly announced climate deal with China hasn’t cooled Republican passions on the issue, either.

“This unrealistic plan, that the President would dump on his successor, would ensure higher utility rates and far fewer jobs,” McConnell said in a statement. “The President said his policies were on the ballot, and the American people spoke up against them. It’s time for more listening, and less job-destroying red tape. Easing the burden already created by EPA regulations will continue to be a priority for me in the new Congress.”

White House counselor John Podesta has already dismissed the idea that Congress will be able to block Obama’s climate regulations.

Other regulations that could land on Obama’s desk with congressional disapproval resolutions range from health care to labor.

There are time limits and conditions defined in the statute, so not everything the administration does will trigger a filibuster short-circuit for the GOP.

And the process will mainly be a way for Republicans to voice their displeasure — and put Senate Democrats on the record — rather than a plan to realistically change administration policy. A veto would still have to be overridden in both chambers, and Republicans would need major Democratic backing to achieve the 67 Senate votes and 290 in the House to override.

Indeed, the process has successfully upended an agency rule-making only once: an Occupational Safety and Health Administration ergonomics rule proposed at the end of the Bill Clinton presidency fell victim to a disapproval resolution that became law after Republican President George W. Bush took office.

Steven T. Dennis contributed to this report.

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