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November 27, 2014

Posts by Niels Lesniewski

822 Posts

November 25, 2014

Schumer: Health Care Distracted Democrats From the Middle Class

schumer 263 112514 445x296 Schumer: Health Care Distracted Democrats From the Middle Class

(Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

Sen. Charles E. Schumer says Democrats need to have a realistic agenda for demonstrating the importance of government to middle class voters, citing a rather unlikely subject as detracting from that message: health care.

“The policy should be simple and easily explained — can it be grasped almost intuitively as something that will help middle-class families?” Schumer said. “Democratic priorities should be achievable. Yes — they must be easy to message, but they have to be a lot more than messaging bills.”

In recent years, Democrats have held no shortage of such votes in the Senate, on proposals they have no expectation of getting the 60 votes needed to overcome procedural hurdles, in part because of persistent Republican opposition.

The messaging chief for Senate Democrats also told an audience at the National Press Club that it was a mistake for Democrats on Capitol Hill and in the White House to prioritize the overhaul of the health care system the way they did when they controlled both chambers back in 2009 and 2010.

“After passing the stimulus, Democrats should have continued to propose middle class-oriented programs and built on the partial success of the stimulus, but unfortunately Democrats blew the opportunity the American people gave them. We took their mandate and put all of our focus on the wrong problem — health care reform,” Schumer said. “The plight of uninsured Americans and the hardships caused by unfair insurance company practices certainly needed to be addressed. But it wasn’t the change we were hired to make.” Full story

November 24, 2014

Ted Cruz Floats Joe Lieberman for Defense Secretary

lieberman 07 071310 445x333 Ted Cruz Floats Joe Lieberman for Defense Secretary

(Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Sen. Ted Cruz has an idea for a new Defense secretary that the incoming Senate Armed Services chairman would love.

The Texas Republican on Monday floated the name of former Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman, the independent Democrat from Connecticut, to replace Chuck Hagel at the Pentagon.

“We need a Secretary of Defense who is squarely focused on defending the national security interests of the United States, first and foremost, and especially preventing a bad deal over Iran’s nuclear weapons program that could do irreparable harm to us and our allies,” Cruz said in a statement.

Full story

Republicans Push for More Iran Sanctions as Talks are Extended

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Ayotte, McCain and Graham likely to pursue tighter sanctions on Iran. (Douglas Graham/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Monday’s seven-month extension of talks about the Iranian nuclear program make it very likely the Senate will vote on strengthening sanctions against Iran in the first part of 2015.

Sen. Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the Republican who will be majority leader next year, signaled that just two days before Election Day.

“I think what we ought to do if we can’t get an acceptable agreement with the Iranians is tighten the sanctions, and in fact we had a bill in the Senate to do that, which the current majority leader wouldn’t allow a vote on,” McConnell told reporters in Kentucky at the time. “Not to stop the talks, but to say at the end of the talks, if there’s no good outcome, then the Iranians would get tougher sanctions.”

Full story

Rand Paul Wants Senate Vote on Declaring War on ISIS

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Paul wants a Senate vote on ISIS. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Sen. Rand Paul has upped the ante in the debate over the role of Congress in the fight against ISIS.

The Kentucky Republican formally announced Monday he would be introducing a resolution to formally declare war against the terrorist group in Syria and Iraq, setting up the possibility of a contentious vote as part of a potential use of force authorization debate next year.

Full story

November 21, 2014

Politically Connected Ambassador Nominees to Get Floor Votes

When the Senate returns from Thanksgiving, the first pressing business will be confirming a pair of President Barack Obama’s nominees who might not stand a chance in a Republican-led Senate.

The Senate is set to vote on Dec. 1 to limit debate on the nominees to be ambassadors to Argentina and Hungary, both of whom were criticized early this year for not knowing much about the countries in question. Neither nominee is a career diplomat. They’re both major Obama campaign contributors.

Full story

Parents of ‘Dreamers’ Need Act of Congress, White House Says

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Immigration reform protesters with United We Dream erect a giant story book in front of the White House to illustrate the stories of immigrant families on July 28. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

President Barack Obama’s sweeping immigration action leaves millions still at risk of deportation, including one group activists had long hoped the president would protect: the parents of the “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. Full story

By Niels Lesniewski Posted at 12:25 p.m.
Immigration

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.

Full story

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

votes006 031214 445x303 Negotiations Over CIA Torture Report Nearing End

(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)

reid 209 111814 445x296 Loretta Lynch Nomination Will Wait as Reid Seeks Broader Deal (Video)

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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