Roll Call: Latest News on Capitol Hill, Congress, Politics and Elections
February 11, 2016

Posts by Steven Dennis

129 Posts

September 29, 2015

Deal-Hungry Senate Eager for Boehner’s Halloween Treats (Video)

UNITED STATES - September 22: Senate Minority Leader Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., smiles as he jokingly addresses that it will only be himself and Assistant Minority Leader, Sen. Richard Durbin, D-Ill., at the weekly Senate Democrat news conference at the Capitol in Washington, Tuesday, September 22, 2015. (Photo By Al Drago/CQ Roll Call)

Reid wants a budget deal with Boehner. (Al Drago/CQ Roll Call)

Senators from both parties want outgoing Speaker John A. Boehner, no longer handcuffed by hardliners in his conference, to send over as many treats as he can — with a minimum of tricks — before retiring around Halloween.

Four days after Boehner’s announcement he’ll step down next month, Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., was touting Tuesday the prospects for a two-year top-line budget deal — and Reid’s wish list for Boehner’s promised “barn cleaning” includes an increase in the federal debt limit.

Full story

September 24, 2015

Golden Rule Doesn’t Justify Illegal Immigration, Sessions Says

Sessions said Pope Francis went close to the line of what a religious leader should say. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Sessions said Pope Francis went close to the line of what a religious leader should say. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Pope Francis’ call for lawmakers to follow the Golden Rule on immigration and other matters has its limits, according to one conservative senator.

Sen. Jeff Sessions, the most ardent foe of illegal immigration in the Senate, talked warmly in general about the pope’s speech, although he said at several points it approached the line of what is appropriate for a religious leader. Full story

September 23, 2015

Jeff Sessions Unswayed by Pope Francis on Immigration, Economy, Climate (Video)

Sen. Jeff Sessions won’t boycott the pope’s address to Congress Thursday, but the Alabama Republican doesn’t expect to be swayed by what he says on immigration, climate change or the economy.

“He’s said things close to open borders, which I think is wrong, and his opinion is no more persuasive to me than the Wall Street Journal’s. I don’t agree with either one,” Sessions told CQ Roll Call in a hallway interview Tuesday. Full story

September 11, 2015

Mikulski Tears Into House Freedom Caucus Shutdown Threat

house freedom caucus

(Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

The longest-serving woman in Congress slammed the House Freedom Caucus for their threat to oppose any bill keeping the government open if it includes funding for Planned Parenthood.

“If they want to use their usual temper tantrum, they’re going to hurt our American people, they’re going to hurt our economy, they’re going to stick it to our national security after all that,” Sen. Barbara Mikulski, D-Md., the ranking Democrat on the Appropriations Committee, said Thursday in a brief interview with CQ Roll Call. Full story

September 10, 2015

Cornyn Rejects House Freedom Caucus Shutdown Threat Over Planned Parenthood

Cornyn says Republicans aren't going to head into a government shutdown over Planned Parenthood. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Cornyn says Republicans aren’t going to head into a government shutdown over Planned Parenthood, despite a threat from the House Freedom Caucus. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

The No. 2 Senate Republican instantly dismissed the fresh shutdown threat from members of the House Freedom Caucus, who declared they wouldn’t vote for any spending bill keeping the government open if it funds Planned Parenthood.

“We’re not going to engage in a shutdown scenario,” said Majority Whip John Cornyn of Texas. “That will set the pro-life movement back, not advance it. We’ve got better ideas to actually advance the pro-life agenda.” Full story

August 11, 2015

Democrats’ Heir Apparent Looks Past Obama Era on Iran Deal

The White House may want Charles E. Schumer tossed overboard as the next Democratic leader, but presidents don’t get a vote.

The senior New York Democrat’s opposition to the Iran nuclear deal comes as Schumer looks ahead to an era when Obama will be writing his memoirs and Schumer will set the Senate agenda. Full story

August 6, 2015

Obama Allies Blast Schumer on Iran Deal, Talk of New Leader (Updated) (Video)

Could Schumer face a leadership challenge over the Iran deal? (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Could Schumer face a leadership challenge over the Iran deal? (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Updated 12:14 a.m. | Did Sen. Charles E. Schumer just open himself up to a serious challenge to lead Senate Democrats in 2017? Top allies of the president say yes — and a major liberal advocacy group now wants him gone. announced a “donor strike” after the New York Democrat’s announcement that he opposes the Iran deal and compared him to Joseph I. Lieberman, while former senior White House aide Dan Pfeiffer warned the Democratic base wouldn’t support Schumer for leader. Full story

Schumer Opposes Iran Deal (Updated)

Schumer opposes the Iran Deal (Douglas Graham/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Schumer opposes the Iran Deal (Douglas Graham/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Updated 12:14 a.m. | Charles E. Schumer, the No. 3 Senate Democrat and one of President Barack Obama’s closest allies, announced late Thursday he will oppose the Iran deal and urge his colleagues to join him, just one day after Obama slammed the critics of the Iran deal as making common cause with hardliners in Iran chanting “death to America.”

The New York Democrat’s full statement is lengthy and significantly complicates the White House’s full-court press, which is relying almost entirely on Democrats to sustain a veto. It also gives Republicans a powerful PR shield against increasingly strident attacks from the president on down that the opponents of the deal only have one real alternative: war.

Schumer says sanctions should be continued and strengthened and negotiate for a better deal.

Schumer’s opposition, however, comes amid what had been growing momentum for the deal inside the Democratic caucus, including the support from the junior senator from New York, Kirsten Gillibrand, earlier Thursday.

And there was an immediate backlash from administration allies and liberal groups questioning his status as the heir apparent to Minority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev.

In a statement provided to CQ Roll Call shortly after announcing his opposition, Schumer indicated that he would work to get votes against the Obama administration’s position on the nuclear agreement with Iran.

But, the presumed next Democratic leader acknowledged that he knew colleagues have and would continue to reach different conclusions.

“There are some who believe that I can force my colleagues to vote my way,” Schumer said. “While I will certainly share my view and try to persuade them that the vote to disapprove is the right one, in my experience with matters of conscience and great consequence like this, each member ultimately comes to their own conclusion.”

Schumer, however, could face a challenge for his leadership of the party following his statement. Several Obama allies questioned his future leadership of the party late Thursday.

Here’s Schumer’s full statement:

Every several years or so a legislator is called upon to cast a momentous vote in which the stakes are high and both sides of the issue are vociferous in their views.

Over the years, I have learned that the best way to treat such decisions is to study the issue carefully, hear the full, unfiltered explanation of those for and against, and then, without regard to pressure, politics or party, make a decision solely based on the merits.

I have spent the last three weeks doing just that: carefully studying the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, reading and re-reading the agreement and its annexes, questioning dozens of proponents and opponents, and seeking answers to questions that go beyond the text of the agreement but will have real consequences that must be considered.

Advocates on both sides have strong cases for their point of view that cannot simply be dismissed. This has made evaluating the agreement a difficult and deliberate endeavor, and after deep study, careful thought and considerable soul-searching, I have decided I must oppose the agreement and will vote yes on a motion of disapproval.

While we have come to different conclusions, I give tremendous credit to President Obama for his work on this issue. The President, Secretary Kerry and their team have spent painstaking months and years pushing Iran to come to an agreement. Iran would not have come to the table without the President’s persistent efforts to convince the Europeans, the Russians, and the Chinese to join in the sanctions. In addition, it was the President’s far-sighted focus that led our nation to accelerate development of the Massive Ordinance Penetrator (MOP), the best military deterrent and antidote to a nuclear Iran. So whichever side one comes down on in this agreement, all fair-minded Americans should acknowledge the President’s strong achievements in combatting and containing Iran.

In making my decision, I examined this deal in three parts: nuclear restrictions on Iran in the first ten years, nuclear restrictions on Iran after ten years, and non-nuclear components and consequences of a deal. In each case I have asked: are we better off with the agreement or without it?

In the first ten years of the deal, there are serious weaknesses in the agreement. First, inspections are not “anywhere, anytime”; the 24-day delay before we can inspect is troubling. While inspectors would likely be able to detect radioactive isotopes at a site after 24 days, that delay would enable Iran to escape detection of any illicit building and improving of possible military dimensions (PMD) – the tools that go into building a bomb but don’t emit radioactivity.

Furthermore, even when we detect radioactivity at a site where Iran is illicitly advancing its bomb-making capability, the 24-day delay would hinder our ability to determine precisely what was being done at that site.

Even more troubling is the fact that the U.S. cannot demand inspections unilaterally. By requiring the majority of the 8-member Joint Commission, and assuming that China, Russia, and Iran will not cooperate, inspections would require the votes of all three European members of the P5+1 as well as the EU representative. It is reasonable to fear that, once the Europeans become entangled in lucrative economic relations with Iran, they may well be inclined not to rock the boat by voting to allow inspections.

Additionally, the “snapback” provisions in the agreement seem cumbersome and difficult to use. While the U.S. could unilaterally cause snapback of all sanctions, there will be instances where it would be more appropriate to snapback some but not all of the sanctions, because the violation is significant but not severe. A partial snapback of multilateral sanctions could be difficult to obtain, because the U.S. would require the cooperation of other nations. If the U.S. insists on snapback of all the provisions, which it can do unilaterally, and the Europeans, Russians, or Chinese feel that is too severe a punishment, they may not comply.

Those who argue for the agreement say it is better to have an imperfect deal than to have nothing; that without the agreement, there would be no inspections, no snapback. When you consider only this portion of the deal – nuclear restrictions for the first ten years – that line of thinking is plausible, but even for this part of the agreement, the weaknesses mentioned above make this argument less compelling.

Second, we must evaluate how this deal would restrict Iran’s nuclear development after ten years.

Supporters argue that after ten years, a future President would be in no weaker a position than we are today to prevent Iran from racing to the bomb. That argument discounts the current sanctions regime. After fifteen years of relief from sanctions, Iran would be stronger financially and better able to advance a robust nuclear program. Even more importantly, the agreement would allow Iran, after ten to fifteen years, to be a nuclear threshold state with the blessing of the world community. Iran would have a green light to be as close, if not closer to possessing a nuclear weapon than it is today. And the ability to thwart Iran if it is intent on becoming a nuclear power would have less moral and economic force.

If Iran’s true intent is to get a nuclear weapon, under this agreement, it must simply exercise patience. After ten years, it can be very close to achieving that goal, and, unlike its current unsanctioned pursuit of a nuclear weapon, Iran’s nuclear program will be codified in an agreement signed by the United States and other nations. To me, after ten years, if Iran is the same nation as it is today, we will be worse off with this agreement than without it.

In addition, we must consider the non-nuclear elements of the agreement. This aspect of the deal gives me the most pause. For years, Iran has used military force and terrorism to expand its influence in the Middle East, actively supporting military or terrorist actions in Israel, Syria, Lebanon, Yemen, Iraq, and Gaza. That is why the U.S. has labeled Iran as one of only three nations in the world who are “state sponsors of terrorism.” Under this agreement, Iran would receive at least $50 billion dollars in the near future and would undoubtedly use some of that money to redouble its efforts to create even more trouble in the Middle East, and, perhaps, beyond.

To reduce the pain of sanctions, the Supreme Leader had to lean left and bend to the moderates in his country. It seems logical that to counterbalance, he will lean right and give the Iranian Revolutionary Guard (IRGC) and the hardliners resources so that they can pursue their number one goal: strengthening Iran’s armed forces and pursuing even more harmful military and terrorist actions.

Finally, the hardliners can use the freed-up funds to build an ICBM on their own as soon as sanctions are lifted (and then augment their ICBM capabilities in 8 years after the ban on importing ballistic weaponry is lifted), threatening the United States. Restrictions should have been put in place limiting how Iran could use its new resources.

When it comes to the non-nuclear aspects of the deal, I think there is a strong case that we are better off without an agreement than with one.

Using the proponents’ overall standard – which is not whether the agreement is ideal, but whether we are better with or without it – it seems to me, when it comes to the nuclear aspects of the agreement within ten years, we might be slightly better off with it. However, when it comes to the nuclear aspects after ten years and the non-nuclear aspects, we would be better off without it.

Ultimately, in my view, whether one supports or opposes the resolution of disapproval depends on how one thinks Iran will behave under this agreement.

If one thinks Iran will moderate, that contact with the West and a decrease in economic and political isolation will soften Iran’s hardline positions, one should approve the agreement. After all, a moderate Iran is less likely to exploit holes in the inspection and sanctions regime, is less likely to seek to become a threshold nuclear power after ten years, and is more likely to use its newfound resources for domestic growth, not international adventurism.

But if one feels that Iranian leaders will not moderate and their unstated but very real goal is to get relief from the onerous sanctions, while still retaining their nuclear ambitions and their ability to increase belligerent activities in the Middle East and elsewhere, then one should conclude that it would be better not to approve this agreement.

Admittedly, no one can tell with certainty which way Iran will go. It is true that Iran has a large number of people who want their government to decrease its isolation from the world and focus on economic advancement at home. But it is also true that this desire has been evident in Iran for thirty-five years, yet the Iranian leaders have held a tight and undiminished grip on Iran, successfully maintaining their brutal, theocratic dictatorship with little threat. Who’s to say this dictatorship will not prevail for another ten, twenty, or thirty years?

To me, the very real risk that Iran will not moderate and will, instead, use the agreement to pursue its nefarious goals is too great.

Therefore, I will vote to disapprove the agreement, not because I believe war is a viable or desirable option, nor to challenge the path of diplomacy. It is because I believe Iran will not change, and under this agreement it will be able to achieve its dual goals of eliminating sanctions while ultimately retaining its nuclear and non-nuclear power. Better to keep U.S. sanctions in place, strengthen them, enforce secondary sanctions on other nations, and pursue the hard-trodden path of diplomacy once more, difficult as it may be.

For all of these reasons, I believe the vote to disapprove is the right one.

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Senate Is Working Again Despite Ted Cruz and Co., McConnell Says (Video)

McConnell touted productivity of his Senate. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

McConnell touted the productivity of his Senate. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell touted the new Senate under his leadership Thursday — one with far more productivity and votes than under his predecessor — and he isn’t about to let Ted Cruz, or anyone else, derail it.

“For any of our members, there are a lot of procedural tools available to slow things down, and they’ve been used frequently and we worked our way through every one of them,” McConnell said when asked about Cruz talking up efforts to hold up federal funding and the debt limit. Full story

McConnell Shuts Down Planned Parenthood Shutdown Talk (Video)

(Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

McConnell says he won’t shut down the government over Planned Parenthood. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell dismissed the growing talk that the fight over Planned Parenthood might result in a government shutdown come Oct. 1 — nor, he said, would he allow a default on the debt.

McConnell, R-Ky., who has repeatedly vowed to oppose shutdowns on his watch, will need to corral a good number of his conference as well as the Democrats to get that done, but he didn’t seem that worried about it Thursday at a press conference marking the first half of the year with Republicans newly in charge of the Senate. Full story

August 5, 2015

Democratic Support Building For Iran Deal

Leahy came out for the Iran deal Wednesday. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Leahy came out for the Iran deal Wednesday. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

With President Barack Obama making another pitch for his Iran deal today, his administration’s unprecedented lobbying effort with Capitol Hill Democrats has been bearing fruit.

Declared Democratic “yes” votes are starting to pile up in the Senate, and relatively few Democrats have come out against the agreement. Obama needs 34 senators to sustain his veto of a resolution of disapproval, and the White House is even more confident about getting the 145 needed in the House. Full story

August 3, 2015

Democrats Vote to Filibuster Planned Parenthood Defunding Bill (Updated)

Manchin voted with Republicans to defund Planned Parenthood. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Manchin announced he would vote with Republicans to defund Planned Parenthood. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Updated 6:33 p.m. | Planned Parenthood funding will continue despite outrage — mostly from Republicans — over videos showing officials discussing the sale of aborted body parts.

Senate Democrats filibustered the bill to defund the group Monday, refusing to allow Republicans to bring it to the floor for debate. The 53-46 vote fell well short of the 60 needed to advance. Full story

July 26, 2015

Despite Rebukes, Ted Cruz Doubles Down on Charge McConnell Lied (Updated)

McConnell defended his decision to set up a vote on the Ex-Im Bank two days after Ted Cruz called him a liar. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

McConnell defended his decision to set up a vote on the Ex-Im Bank two days after Cruz called him a liar. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Updated 5:05 p.m. | The Senate opened Sunday with a reading by the Senate President Pro Tem Orrin G. Hatch of the Senate’s rules of decorum, in an apparent rebuke of Sen. Ted Cruz calling Majority Leader Mitch McConnell a liar on Friday. And things got more personal from there.

Shortly thereafter, McConnell defended his actions setting up a vote to revive the Export-Import Bank, even though he opposes it — and other top Republicans rebuked Cruz on the floor even as the Texas Republican defended his comments in an extraordinary speech of his own.

The back and forth between Hatch, Cruz and Cruz’s senior Texas colleague, Majority Whip John Cornyn, made for an extraordinary sequence. Full story

July 22, 2015

Senate Votes to Advance Highway Bill (Updated)

Updated 8:31 p.m. | The Senate broke a logjam late Wednesday to advance a bipartisan highway bill despite several top Democrats voting to filibuster the package.

The vote caught many senators by surprise. Sens. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., and Jeff Merkley, D-Ore,. were warming up for the Washington Kastles Charity Classic when they got word of the vote. They dropped their racquets, got on their phones and prepared to pack it in and head back to the Capitol.

Full story

July 16, 2015

Senate Passes No Child Left Behind Rewrite

Lamar Alexander shepherded the No Child Left Behind rewrite through the Senate. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Lamar Alexander shepherded the No Child Left Behind rewrite through the Senate. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

No Child Left Behind is a step closer to a major overhaul giving far more flexibility to states to act — or not — on poorly performing schools.

The vote on the Senate bill — 81 to 17 — sends it to a conference with the House bill, which the White House threatened to veto. Full story

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