Roll Call: Latest News on Capitol Hill, Congress, Politics and Elections
December 21, 2014

Posts by Niels Lesniewski

864 Posts

December 19, 2014

Martin Paone New Senate Liaison

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Paone, seen here packing his belongings in his Senate office on Jan. 30, 2008 as he prepared to depart from 32 years on Capitol Hill. (CQ Roll Call File Photo)

The White House’s new Senate liaison is an old familiar face around the chamber, and someone who really knows how the trains run.

Martin P. Paone will join the Obama administration as deputy assistant to the president for legislative affairs, a White House official confirmed Friday afternoon.

Paone ran the Senate’s floor operations for the Democrats as their party secretary from 1995-2008, and in a 32-year tenure on Capitol Hill, spent 29 of them on the floor. That meant he was involved in many of the chamber’s most memorable moments, including the 1988 incident when Majority Leader Robert C. Byrd, D-Wva., went through the procedural maneuvers to compel attendance that led to the arrest of Oregon Republican Bob Packwood.

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How the Nuclear Option Changed the Judiciary

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(Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

For Sen. Harry Reid, going “nuclear” set the groundwork for his last great act of the 113th Congress.

A little more than a year after Senate Democrats deployed the “nuclear option” to effectively change the Senate rules on nominations with a simple majority, Democrats up and down Pennsylvania Avenue generally seem happy with the changes, even as the Senate shifts to Republican control for 2015.

White House Counsel Neil Eggleston on Wednesday highlighted the 134 judges confirmed in the 113th Congress alone, saying that was 44 percent of the total confirmed during President Barack Obama’s tenure. That number included 132 federal district and circuit judges, according to Senate Democrats.

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December 18, 2014

Rand Paul on Cuba: Open Trade a Better Way to Fight Communism

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Paul said opening up Cuba could be more effective than an embargo. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Sen. Rand Paul says President Barack Obama should expect to face thousands of riders on next year’s spending bills.

“I say we put not dozens, not hundreds, but thousands of instructions to the president on how it should be spent,” the Kentucky Republican said Thursday. “That’s the power of the purse. Now, some have been disappointed we haven’t used it so far, but we haven’t controlled the Senate, so we haven’t been able to do it.” Full story

December 17, 2014

Sessions Yields to Enzi for Budget Gavel (Updated)

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Enzi will take the reins in the 114th Congress. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Updated 7:23 p.m. | Sen. Michael B. Enzi will be the chairman of the Senate Budget Committee in the next Congress.

The Wyoming Republican will get the job over current ranking member Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., who announced Wednesday he’d be deferring the position. Enzi has seniority on the panel, meaning his decision to assert his position would have made his selection likely in the event it was put to a vote of the Republican members of the committee.

“Mike is an accountant and a small businessman who understands the need to balance budgets and tell the truth about the numbers. He is a man of integrity and principle, respected by all of his Senate colleagues. I am eager to assist him next year, and I hope to tackle the important issue of welfare reform,” Sessions said in a statement.

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By Niels Lesniewski Posted at 5:06 p.m.
Budget

Lindsey Graham Balks at Funding U.S. Embassy in Cuba (Updated)

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(Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Updated 3:10 p.m. | The debate over President Barack Obama’s announced changes in U.S. policy toward Cuba will face a tough test at the Senate Appropriations Committee next year.

Sen. Lindsey Graham, who is expected to become chairman of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on State-Foreign Operations, said Tuesday he would mount an effort to prevent the use of funds for a U.S. embassy to open in Havana.

“I will do all in my power to block the use of funds to open an embassy in Cuba. Normalizing relations with Cuba is bad idea at a bad time,” the South Carolina Republican said Wednesday on Twitter.

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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.”

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Keystone XL and Energy Efficiency, Together Again?

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The Portman-Shaheen bill has been derailed by Senate dysfunction. (Chris Maddaloni/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

The first energy bill of the new year could feature a bit of a role reversal.

With Republican Sen. Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the incoming majority leader, saying the Keystone XL pipeline approval legislation will be the first item of business in the 114th Congress, lead GOP sponsor John Hoeven of North Dakota mooted the possible return of bipartisan energy efficiency legislation.

“If they want to, they can offer it,” Hoeven said of legislation Republican Rob Portman of Ohio and Democrat Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire tried repeatedly to move across the Senate floor. “As a matter of fact, I’ve had already had that conversation with them not once, but many times.”

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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.

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McConnell Puts Keystone First on the Agenda (Video)

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(Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

The incoming Senate majority leader is putting approval of the Keystone XL pipeline project first on his 2015 agenda.

Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., on Tuesday told reporters that in looking ahead to the new year, a bill sponsored by Republican John Hoeven of North Dakota would lead off the floor schedule. Full story

December 15, 2014

Coburn Faces Blowback Over End-of-Session Blockade

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(Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Sen. Tom Coburn faced renewed criticism Monday evening over his blockade of bipartisan measures aimed at preventing veterans from committing suicide, improving energy efficiency and extending terrorism insurance.

It was another lonely fight for Coburn, the Oklahoma Republican who is retiring early and has become something of a pariah to many veterans’ advocates. In this case, Coburn opposed the bill’s pricetag of $22 million worth of new authorizations without, he says, addressing larger issues at the Department of Veterans Affairs.

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By Niels Lesniewski Posted at 9:08 p.m.
Policy

Ahead of Holidays, Schumer Slams High Cost of Flying (Video)

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Schumer wants to know why airlines are adding a fuel surcharge with fuel prices on the decline. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

How does a senator spend his only off-day during the end-of-session holiday rush? If you’re Charles E. Schumer, you go home to New York and hold a news conference about the high price of airline tickets.

“What adds insult to injury is a lot of the airlines, when prices were going up added a surcharge, a fuel surcharge. Well, that fuel surcharge is still on the tickets even though prices are going down,” said Schumer, the No. 3 man in Senate Democratic leadership.

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From New Committee Seat, David Vitter Seeks to Stop AG Nomination

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Vitter is seeking to stop Obama’s attorney general nomination. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

One of the new Republican members of the Senate Judiciary Committee says next year’s Senate should block President Barack Obama’s attorney general nominee.

Louisiana Sen. David Vitter is trying to stop the nomination of Loretta Lynch, the current U.S. Attorney based in Brooklyn, over Obama’s recent executive action on immigration. 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 Rejects Cruz Point of Order on Obama’s Immigration Action

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Ted Cruz’s immigration gambit was thumped by the Senate. (CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Updated 11:05 p.m. | Ted Cruz’s proxy vote against President Barack Obama’s executive action ended in an overwhelming defeat Saturday night, splitting the GOP in half.

Not that Cruz didn’t try.

“It allows Republicans to also show they are committed to ending Obama’s amnesty once and for all in the next Congress. If we agree it is indeed unconstitutional, we have no business funding it when the GOP controls Congress,” the Texas Republican said in a statement ahead of that vote. “The Constitution matters, and we must defend it. That is why we have fought so hard to ensure this vote.”

Cruz’s point of order failed 22-74, with about 20 Republicans joining with the Democrats to oppose it, including Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky. and Cruz’s fellow Texan, Republican Whip John Cornyn.

Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., ripped Cruz’s maneuver as “irresponsible” in a statement late Saturday:

“‎While the president’s executive actions on immigration are reprehensible and deserve a strong response, I value the oath I took to support and defend the Constitution too much to exploit it for political expediency,” said Corker. “The Constitution gives Congress the power to fund the government so to assert that the House-passed spending bill is unconstitutional is not only inaccurate but irresponsible.”

Cruz’s vote was a rather blunt instrument, since he raised a Constitutional point of order against the entirety of the section of the catch-all “cromnibus” spending bill providing continuing appropriations for the Department of Homeland Security. Putting the question directly to the chamber was in keeping with longstanding Senate practice.

“The junior senator from Texas is wrong, wrong, wrong on several counts,” Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said on the Senate floor, saying the objection on Constitutional grounds had no basis, pointing out that the House had already passed the entirety of the spending bill. The other 11 regular appropriation bills (aside from Homeland Security) are funded through the end of fiscal 2015.

When Cruz sought to raise the same point-of-order on Friday, the parliamentary timing was not yet correct, and Cruz told CQ Roll Call that he would return, likely in the wee hours of Sunday morning. In fact, an agreement reached to expedite the processing of the Senate’s business put that vote Saturday night, just ahead of a vote to clear the spending bill for President Barack Obama. The vote on Cruz’s point-of-order came just after the Senate agreed, 77-19, to limit debate on the underlying legislation.

Adam Jentleson, a spokesman for Reid, said Cruz’s gambit helped Democrats confirm more nominees.

“Senator Cruz’s stunt got two fewer votes than the twenty-four Obama nominees he helped Senate Democrats advance tonight,” he said in an email.

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

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Menendez Files ISIS Force Amendment to ‘Cromnibus’ Despite No Chance of Vote

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(Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

The top Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee thinks the current Congress should stick around long enough to consider an Authorization for Use of Military Force against the Islamic State, and he’s reiterating that as the Senate wraps up its work.

Chairman Robert Menendez, D-N.J., moved a use of force resolution through his committee Thursday, and then filed it as an amendment to one of the last trains leaving the station this year — the catchall “cromnibus” spending bill. Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., has already used the procedural tools at his disposal to prevent amendments, but senators frequently file them anyway for messaging effect. Full story

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