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November 28, 2014

Posts by Steven Dennis

78 Posts

November 18, 2014

NSA Overhaul Dies in Senate Vote (Updated)

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Leahy’s NSA reform bill died on the Senate floor. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Updated 8:19 p.m. | An effort backed by the Obama administration to overhaul the NSA’s controversial surveillance activities died in the Senate Tuesday.

Republicans led by Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., voted to block the bill, which came just two votes shy of the 60 needed to come to the floor for debate.

Just four Republicans joined Democrats to advance the bill: Ted Cruz of Texas, Dean Heller of Nevada, Mike Lee of Utah and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska. Bill Nelson of Florida was the only Democrat to vote against cloture.

The 58-42 vote came as a blow to the measure’s champion, Judiciary Chairman Patrick Leahy, D-Vt. It was aimed at ending the bulk collection by the government of phone data and other records of Americans and reforming oversight of the NSA’s programs.

Leahy decried opponents who he said used fear to oppose the bill. He recalled that a lethal anthrax letter was addressed to him — and he would have died if he had touched it — but said the Constitution and civil liberties are more important.

McConnell, however, blasted the measure as one that would aid America’s enemies, including ISIS, also known as ISIL or the Islamic State.

His fellow Kentucky Republican, Sen. Rand Paul, voted against the bill because it didn’t go far enough in his opinion to roll back surveillance under the Patriot Act.

“In the aftermath of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, Americans were eager to catch and punish the terrorists who attacked us,” he said in a statement. “I, like most Americans, demanded justice. But one common misconception is that the Patriot Act applies only to foreigners—when in reality, the Patriot Act was instituted precisely to widen the surveillance laws to include U.S. citizens,” Sen. Paul said. “As Benjamin Franklin put it, ‘those who trade their liberty for security may wind up with neither.’ Today’s vote to oppose further consideration of the Patriot Act extension proves that we are one step closer to restoring civil liberties in America.”

Sarah Chacko contributed to this report.

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By Steven Dennis Posted at 7:55 p.m.
Intelligence

Keystone XL Pipeline Stalls in Senate Vote (Video) (Updated)

landrieu 208 111814 445x286 Keystone XL Pipeline Stalls in Senate Vote (Video) (Updated)

Landrieu working the phones Tuesday ahead of the Keystone XL vote. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

Updated 7:42 p.m. | A Senate bill aimed at approving the Keystone XL pipeline stalled Tuesday, dealing a blow to Sen. Mary L. Landrieu’s tough re-election bid.

Republican leaders plan to bring the pipeline legislation back up next year, when GOP reinforcements appear certain to bring it over the line and to President Barack Obama’s desk.

The 59-41 vote fell just one vote short of overcoming a filibuster led by Democrats.

In addition to Landrieu, Democrats who backed the pipeline included Sens. Mark Begich of Alaska, Michael Bennet of Colorado, Thomas R. Carper of Delaware, Bob Casey of Pennsylvania, Joe Donnelly of Indiana, Kay Hagan of North Carolina, Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota, Joe Manchin III of West Virginia, Claire McCaskill of Missouri, Mark Pryor of Arkansas, Jon Tester of Montana, John Walsh of Montana and Mark Warner of Virginia.

Republicans hope their ranks will include Rep. Bill Cassidy, who is challenging Landrieu in next month’s runoff election in Louisiana and like Landrieu has long backed the pipeline, which would ship oil from Canada to the Gulf Coast. Cassidy sponsored the Keystone bill that earlier passed the House.

Full story

November 13, 2014

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

Claire McCaskill Opposes Reid Staying as Leader

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(Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Sen. Claire McCaskill of Missouri told reporters Thursday she would not vote for Sen. Harry Reid as the Democratic leader as the party heads into the minority.

“I will not,” she responded when asked whether she will vote for the Nevada Democrat.

Full story

November 12, 2014

Schumer Expects Loretta Lynch Confirmation Will Be Delayed

schumer 093 1119131 445x274 Schumer Expects Loretta Lynch Confirmation Will Be Delayed

(Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Senate Democrats won’t likely step on the gas to ensure the confirmation of Loretta Lynch as President Barack Obama’s attorney general pick, according to No. 3 Democrat Charles E. Schumer.

“I think the likelihood is that [the Lynch nomination] will not be in the lame duck,” the New York Democrat told reporters Wednesday morning. “I think our Republican colleagues don’t want it during the lame duck and I think we are going to accede to that request.”

If Democrats don’t confirm her nomination before Republicans take over the chamber on Jan. 3, her nomination will rest in GOP hands. President Barack Obama’s plans for expansive immigration action before the end of the year could endanger Lynch’s confirmation under that scenario.

But Schumer, who is leading the charge for Lynch, the U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of New York, said he’s willing to delay the pick because he is confident she will be confirmed.

“Because I think she’s going to get support,” he said when asked about the delay. “[If] we know she is going to get support, why poison the well? I have such confidence in her I think when they get to know her and see her they will support her.”

Related:

10 Questions for Eric Holder’s Replacement as Attorney General

Immigration Threatens Loretta Lynch’s Confirmation

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November 5, 2014

Harry Reid Congratulates Mitch McConnell on Taking Senate

reid 013 060314 242x335 Harry Reid Congratulates Mitch McConnell on Taking Senate

(Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Sen. Harry Reid congratulated Sen. Mitch McConnell for taking his job late Tuesday, after Republicans swept most of the key Senate races and swamped Democrats up and down the ballot.

“I’d like to congratulate Senator McConnell, who will be the new Senate Majority Leader,” the Nevada Democrat said of the Kentucky Republican in an emailed statement. “The message from voters is clear: they want us to work together. I look forward to working with Senator McConnell to get things done for the middle class.”

The terse statement left much unsaid; Democrats will have plenty of infighting over what went wrong, with many already behind the scenes pointing fingers at the president and the White House.

But Reid’s floor strategy — in effect a prevent defense — also failed to bear fruit.

Reid’s statement also makes clear he intends to stick around rather than relinquish the party leadership reigns.

And despite grumbling, there’s no open revolt against his leadership — yet.

There’s also the business of what to do in a lame-duck session before McConnell controls the gavel — such as nominations and an omnibus spending bill.

But that’s tomorrow’s story.

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By Steven Dennis Posted at 12:09 a.m.
Harry Reid

October 30, 2014

The Attack Ads Harry Reid Didn’t Want You to See

luncheons015 060413 445x295 The Attack Ads Harry Reid Didnt Want You to See

(Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Harry Reid’s strategy of blocking amendments all year was intended with one clear objective in mind — protecting his majority.

Republicans have complained vociferously about the Senate majority leader shutting down amendments — but behind the scenes, the Nevada Democrat’s senators asked him to do so for a very simple reason: Nobody wants to give an opponent fodder for 30-second ads in a tough election year.

Reid’s strategy had a downside, because Democrats had fewer opportunities to show their independence from an unpopular president.

But aside from that attack, Republicans have been left mostly to mine earlier votes from, for instance, the 2013 budget resolution vote-a-rama — or for parts of the Affordable Care Act they voted for years ago.

Here are some of the subjects — and TV attack lines — Reid’s strategy sought to avoid: Full story

October 28, 2014

Democrats Run From Harry Reid

Harry Reid’s caucus is running from him on the campaign trail, but that doesn’t mean a revolt is in the works — yet.

The majority leader has twisted the Senate into a pretzel all year to protect his vulnerable members, but the Nevada Democrat is now facing skepticism on the campaign trail from some of those same Democrats, as well as from some would-be newcomers. And there’s at least one scenario that could force his hand.

Still, there’s that old saying: You can’t beat somebody with nobody, and so far, none of the senators who might have the chops to take on Reid have made any noises about doing so. Full story

October 8, 2014

Republicans Eye Obamacare Showdown in Lame Duck

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(Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Updated 5:22 p.m. | A group of Senate Republicans have their eye on another Obamacare showdown in the lame-duck session.

The 14 Republicans, led by Marco Rubio of Florida, wrote a letter urging Speaker John A. Boehner to ”prohibit the Obama administration” from spending money on an “Obamacare taxpayer bailout.”

They point to a legal opinion from the Government Accountability Office that said additional funding authority would be needed to make payments to insurance companies under the risk-corridor component of the Obamacare health care exchanges. The Republicans say taxpayers could be on the hook for bailing out insurance companies that suffer losses.

“Without that appropriation, any money spent to cover insurance company losses under the risk corridor program would be unlawful,” the senators wrote to Boehner, later noting Congress needs to act to keep the government operating past Dec. 11, when the existing continuing resolution expires.

Full story

October 6, 2014

Ted Cruz Slams SCOTUS on Gay Marriage: ‘Tragic and Indefensible’

cruz 087 090914 445x296 Ted Cruz Slams SCOTUS on Gay Marriage: Tragic and Indefensible

(Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Updated 5:49 p.m. | While most Republicans shied away from commenting Monday on the Supreme Court’s historic decision to let stand a slew of lower court rulings legalizing gay marriage, Sen. Ted Cruz torched the court’s decision.

The Texas Republican called the decision “tragic and indefensible” and said he would introduce a constitutional amendment that would ensure states can ban gay marriage.

“By refusing to rule if the States can define marriage, the Supreme Court is abdicating its duty to uphold the Constitution. The fact that the Supreme Court Justices, without providing any explanation whatsoever, have permitted lower courts to strike down so many state marriage laws is astonishing,” he said in a statement. Full story

By Steven Dennis Posted at 4:45 p.m.
Ted Cruz

September 17, 2014

Kaine Introduces Limited ISIS War Authorization

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(Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Sen. Tim Kaine is introducing a limited war authorization against ISIS, even as Congress is set to jet out of town without an authorization vote before the elections.

The Virginia Democrat, who has led the push for Congress to go on record, would limit the use of ground forces in the conflict to rescue missions and to go after high-value targets. The authority against ISIS, also known as ISIL or the Islamic State, would expire after a year.

He also proposes to repeal the 2002 authorization to use military force (AUMF) in Iraq, something the White House has said it supports.

“Last week, President Obama laid out a strong case for the need to degrade and destroy ISIL and invited broader Congressional support for this effort,” Kaine said in a statement. “I was heartened when Foreign Relations Committee Chairman (Robert) Menendez answered this call by saying the committee would soon craft authorizing language for the U.S. military mission. It’s my hope that this proposal will help move the ball forward on what a specific and narrow authorization for limited military action against ISIL should look like.”

Kaine again knocked the Congress for ducking the authorization question for now.

“If Congress isn’t willing to do the hard work – to debate and vote on an authorization – we should not be asking our servicemembers to go into harm’s way,” he said.

Here’s the full text of Kaine’s proposal: Full story

September 16, 2014

Congress Ducks War Authorization Vote

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Anti-war protesters disrupt a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on ISIS Tuesday. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

Congress appears set to sprint for the exits after voting to fund President Barack Obama’s new war on ISIS — although not by name — after rejecting a smattering of calls from lawmakers to go on record explicitly debating and authorizing it.

The get-out-of-town votes could come Wednesday, as the nation celebrates Constitution Day, the brainchild of the late-Sen. Robert C. Byrd, who was long the defender of Congress’ prerogatives, especially with regard to war.

“Sen. Byrd would be on the floor demanding that the United States Senate fulfill its constitutional responsibilities, which are debate, amend and vote,” said Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., one voice in a fairly small bipartisan group pushing unsuccessfully for a full debate and votes on the authorization to use military force before going home. “This is another act of cowardice, which contributes to the low esteem in which we’re held by the American people.”

Today, the closest heir to Byrd may be Sen. Tim Kaine. The Virginia Democrat has long been an ally of the president, but he has nonetheless sharply criticized Obama — and his colleagues — for not seeking a vote from Congress authorizing the war.

“It’s the most important power that Congress has and it’s the most momentous decision that the nation makes,” Kaine told CQ Roll Call after a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on ISIS, also known as the Islamic State. He called the issue an “obsession” of his, but suggested any comparisons between himself and Byrd are “presumptuous.” Full story

August 1, 2014

Senate Passes Funding for Israel’s Iron Dome

The Senate passed a supplemental spending bill for Israel’s Iron Dome air defense system Friday, after most senators had gone home for the August recess.

The bill had been proposed by Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., only to be blocked late Thursday by Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., who demanded the $225 million cost be offset so that it would not add to the debt.

Coburn relented, said Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., who thanked him afterward at a press conference for no longer standing in the way of the bill.

“By passing this bipartisan measure, we send a message to Hamas that its terrorist tactics and its attempts to terrorize Israel’s populace will not succeed,” McConnell said in a statement. “And we can help Israel defend its civilian population against indiscriminate attacks as it continues its campaign — Operation Protective Edge — to destroy the often-Iranian-supplied weapons stockpiled within Gaza.”

By Steven Dennis Posted at 11:35 a.m.
Appropriations

July 31, 2014

Senate Sends Highway Patch to the President, Heads for August Recess

Updated 9:25 a.m. | The Senate cleared a $10.8 billion House bill patching the Highway Trust Fund to the president’s desk Thursday in its last legislative vote before heading out of town for the August recess.

The Senate will still be in session Friday, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said, but the Nevada Democrat said after Thursday the next roll call vote would not occur until September.

With the highway bill passing 81-13 and a VA bill also cleared for the president’s desk, but a border supplemental blocked by the GOP, Congress cleared two of the three major legislative items leaders had hoped to accomplish this week. Full story

By Steven Dennis Posted at 9:13 p.m.
Uncategorized

July 29, 2014

Robert McDonald Confirmed as VA Secretary

The Senate confirmed former Procter & Gamble CEO Robert McDonald as the new secretary of Veterans Affairs on Tuesday, with a $17 billion deal to slash VA wait times expected to pass later this week.

The 97-0 vote reflected broad bipartisan support for McDonald’s pick. Republicans including Speaker John A. Boehner and Rob Portman, both from McDonald’s native Ohio, immediately backed McDonald, who support Mitt Romney in the 2012 election.

Related:

Bernie Sanders’ New Title: Dealmaker

Robert McDonald Pick Stems the Bleeding in VA Health Scandal

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