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December 18, 2014

Posts in "Mitch McConnell"

December 16, 2014

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 14, 2014

How Big Is the Ted Cruz Caucus?

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Eleven Republicans sided with Ted Cruz on all three key votes on the ‘cromnibus.’ (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

It’s a question that will prove crucial next year when Mitch McConnell takes the reins of a new Senate: Just how big is the Ted Cruz caucus?

Three votes on the “cromnibus” late Saturday night suggest it could be as large as 22 senators — a dangerously high number for McConnell — or as few as a handful.

Let’s break down the three votes — on filibustering the $1.1 trillion package, on Cruz’s point of order aimed at targeting the president’s immigration action, and final passage. Full story

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 Avoids Shutdown, Passes Cromnibus in Bipartisan Vote

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Reid, left, and Mitch McConnell, are tested as the government gets closer to shutting down. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

Updated 11:26 p.m. | The Senate has avoided a government shutdown, easily clearing the $1.1 trillion “cromnibus” funding the government through September.

The government was scheduled to shut down at midnight Saturday, but the Senate first cleared a four-day stopgap measure by voice vote and later reached a deal to clear the cromnibus after lawmakers in both parties sparred over who was to blame for the impending shutdown theatrics.

The final vote was 56-40 in an extremely bipartisan vote, with 21 Democrats, 18 Republicans and independent Bernard Sanders of Vermont voting no.

Republican no votes: Bob Corker of Tennessee; Michael D. Crapo of Idaho; Ted Cruz of Texas; Jeff Flake of Arizona; Charles E. Grassley of Iowa; Dean Heller of Nevada, Ron Johnson of Wisconsin, Mike Lee of Utah; John McCain of Arizona; Jerry Moran of Kansas; Rand Paul of Kentucky; Rob Portman of Ohio; Jim Risch of Idaho; Marco Rubio of Florida; Tim Scott of South Carolina; Jeff Sessions of Alabama; Richard C. Shelby of Alabama; and David Vitter of Louisiana.

Democratic no votes: Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut; Cory Booker of New Jersey; Barbara Boxer of California; Sherrod Brown of Ohio; Maria Cantwell of Washington; Al Franken of Minnesota; Kirsten Gillibrand of New York; Tom Harkin of Iowa; Mazie K. Hirono of Hawaii; Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota; Carl Levin of Michigan; Joe Manchin III of West Virginia; Ed Markey of Massachusetts; Claire McCaskill of Missouri; Robert Menendez of New Jersey; Jeff Merkley of Oregon; Jack Reed of Rhode Island; Tester of Montana; Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island and Ron Wyden of Oregon.

In the key vote earlier Saturday night, the Senate easily cleared the 60-vote threshold to stop a filibuster attempt, 77-19. Thirteen Republicans, five Democrats and Sen. Bernard Sanders, I-Vt., voted to filibuster the bill.

The Senate then thumped an effort by Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, to raise a point of order over the issue of the President Barack Obama’s executive action on immigration. Cruz’s effort failed on a similarly lopsided 22-74 vote. 

The Senate had been stuck in the midst of numerous procedural votes on nominations — with a weekend session forced by conservatives against the wishes of many in their own party. Full story

December 11, 2014

McConnell Chief Sharon Soderstrom Wields Influence Behind the Scenes

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Soderstrom has a low profile and big influence as McConnell’s leadership chief of staff. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

In her first stint in a majority leader’s office, Sharon Soderstrom, chief of staff to incoming Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, used to sit quietly in the back of the chamber watching the floor.

Her unassuming presence belied the significance of her work.

“If she would see a couple of members talking where one maybe had taken a position that I didn’t agree with as leader and talking to one that I thought was with us, she’d come let me know that there was a conversation going on and I’d better get over there and find out what was happening,” said former Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott, R-Miss.

Lott had hired her away from Sen. Dan Coats, R-Ind., in 1999 to be a senior policy adviser in his leader’s office.

And it was her ability to read the ebb and flow of the Senate that earned Soderstrom senior positions in two other consecutive Republican leadership offices.

Now as McConnell’s right hand, Soderstrom will play a major role in the operation of the Senate and every piece of legislation that comes to the floor in the next Congress.

The Kentucky Republican appointed Soderstrom chief in late 2010, making her the highest ranking female aide in Congress.

“Sharon is brilliant,” McConnell said in a statement. “She has a deep understanding of the Senate, she’s an absolute delight to work with and I can’t imagine anybody I’d rather have running point as we begin our new majority.”

She’s notoriously press averse and declined to be interviewed for this article.

As chief of staff in the Republican majority, she will have a broad portfolio that entails office and personnel responsibilities, while making sure the entire enterprise is working at a high level.

Soderstrom will also help the GOP develop and settle on strategy, as she did during the debate in McConnell’s office over whether to call Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. during the fiscal cliff talks at the end of 2012. Biden and McConnell ended up brokering the deal that averted going over the cliff.

“That was clearly a big decision that altered the trajectory of that negotiation,” said Rohit Kumar, who previously served as deputy chief of staff for McConnell and who is now at PricewaterhouseCoopers. “It was a contentious decision discussed amongst the senior staff … and if she had said, ‘No, that’s a bad idea,’ it would have carried great weight in the leader’s mind.”

Soderstrom is also keen at knowing how senators might vote and anticipating how events may be resolved.

“I used to describe the Senate as a living, breathing creature and it has a pulse and it has a tempo to it,” Lott said. “Not a lot of people sense that or get a feeling of about what’s about to happen on an issue and she’s really good at that.”

Soderstrom was initially overlooked when she was searching for work on Capitol Hill, according to Coats.

“When I was in the House of Representatives, she first came to my office just after graduating from [the University of Virginia], in three years, by the way, instead of four, and the biggest mistake I made, because I had filled up my staff, was not finding a place for Sharon,” Coats said.

She eventually got a job with Sen. Paul Trible, R-Va., according to Coats, who got his opportunity to hire her as a legislative director in 1990, in his first stint in the Senate. “I tried to remedy my mistake,” Coats said. Soderstrom rose to chief of staff.

Soderstrom served a two-year stint as Republican staff director of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee before being hired in 2004 as deputy chief of staff under Sen. Bill Frist, R-Tenn., who was elected majority leader after Lott. McConnell first hired her as his deputy two years later.

Her longevity stands out in a Senate where there’s been much turnover among staff and senators.

“She has a perspective that rivals that of senators in terms of her longevity,” Kumar said. “In that world having somebody who’s been there for a longer period of time” lends “an important perspective to the institution … and it allows her to be an ever-more effective chief of staff to the leader.”

Kyle Simmons, who served as McConnell’s chief of staff before Soderstrom, said she was so important that when McConnell first put his leadership team together, “We started by recruiting Sharon first and then building around her.”

“She was that important and that experienced and had performed at a very high level in previous leader offices,” Simmons said, “[so] we felt [she] would give us a running start to be effective from day one.”

Simmons said Soderstrom has the three pillars needed to be successful in the job: the trust of McConnell, the respect of the conference and the trust of her fellow staffers, “who rely on her judgment and most importantly her experience.”

Soderstrom is also known as a quick study of the myriad policy issues that come through the leader’s office.

“In the leader’s office you have to be an expert on everything; everybody is going to come through the front door with whatever policy matter they have and expect you to up to speed on it and understand where they are coming from and she is so good at that,” said David Schiappa, who was secretary for the minority under McConnell and now is at the Duberstein Group.

Also known as a great boss, particularly to younger staff, Soderstrom typically lets co-workers go home on holidays to be with their family, while she stays behind and minds the office.

“Just from a personal standpoint, she takes a great interest in others’ lives up there,” Schiappa said. “When we were going to be there late … her first thoughts to me was I’ve got to make sure [my staff] get out of here … she was concerned about the people.”

Related:

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

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December 10, 2014

Leahy: ‘Kind of Petty’ Not to Fund Emeritus Office in ‘Cromnibus’

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(Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Not since the electoral defeat of Alaska Republican Sen. Ted Stevens departed has the Senate had a president pro tempore emeritus.

That’s the relatively new title that has been attached to senior member of the minority party in the Senate when that senator has previously served in the constitutional office of president pro tempore. Sen. Strom Thurmond, R-S.C., held the title, as did Robert C. Byrd, D-W.Va., and Stevens. And that has come along with an additional budget.

But Sen. Patrick J. Leahy, D-Vt., will have no such additional budget when he cedes the role of president pro tempore to his longtime Judiciary Committee colleague Orrin G. Hatch of Utah in the new Congress. Leahy called the Republican-driven decision to not provide funding for the ceremonial office in the end-of-the-year “cromnibus” spending bill “kind of petty.” Full story

December 9, 2014

McCain and a ‘Unique Moral Perspective’ on Torture (Video)

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(Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

As the Senate Intelligence Committee’s CIA torture report roiled Capitol Hill Tuesday, Sen. John McCain framed the argument as one of moral clarity, all the while bumping up against his party leaders.

“I rise in support of the release, the long-delayed release of the Senate Intelligence Committee’s summarized, unclassified review of the so-called enhanced interrogation techniques that were employed by the previous administration to extract information from captured terrorists,” the Arizona Republican said on the Senate floor. “I believe the American people have a right, indeed responsibility, to know what was done in their name, how these practices did or did not serve our interests, and how they comported with our most important values.” Full story

December 8, 2014

McConnell to Nominate Julie Adams as Secretary of the Senate

Updated 6:08 p.m. | Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said Monday that longtime aide Julie Adams would become secretary of the Senate when he becomes majority leader next year.

“I’m confident that she will continue serving this institution and our colleagues with the skill and professionalism she’s demonstrated throughout her career in both the Senate and White House,” said McConnell, the Kentucky Republican who will become majority leader in 2015.

Adams, who has been McConnell’s director of administration, will succeed Nancy Erickson, who has held the post since 2007. Adams will formally be nominated for the position at the start of the new Congress.  Full story

McConnell Plots a Functional, Bipartisan Senate

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McConnell said divisions among Senate Democrats in the next Congress will trump any discipline problems within his Republican majority.(Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

Sen. Mitch McConnell wants to hit the ground running in January — and he thinks Democrats are ready to join him in crafting a more open, functional Senate.

In an exclusive interview in his Capitol office suite, the incoming majority leader told CQ Roll Call he’s been preparing his would-be chairmen to move quickly since spring.

“The worst experience any majority can have is that you convene and you look around and nothing’s ready to go. So what I said to the members who hoped they would be chairmen [was], ‘Let’s don’t have that problem. Be thinking now about legislation that you have, preferably that enjoys some Democratic support, because we certainly didn’t think we were going to have 60 and we don’t,’” the Kentucky Republican said.

McConnell pointed to conversations he’s had with Democrats, whose cooperation will be required to get the Senate functioning as he would like.

Full story

Immigration Not High on McConnell Agenda

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Immigration isn’t at the top of McConnell’s priority list. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

The incoming Senate majority leader isn’t eager to tackle immigration after President Barack Obama’s recent executive action.

While Republicans in both chambers are pushing responses to Obama, Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said in an interview Friday not to expect the sort of big immigration package that moved with bipartisan support under Democratic leadership in the current Congress. Full story

Mitch McConnell Interview Transcript

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McConnell talked with CQ Roll Call on Dec. 5. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

CQ Roll Call’s Niels Lesniewski interviewed incoming Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., on Dec. 5. A lightly edited transcript follows.

Full story

December 2, 2014

Taxes, Defense, Appropriations Remain Big 3 Issues Before Christmas (Video)

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McConnell is optimistic about getting legislation accomplished before the holidays. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

In the mad rush to complete work before Christmas, there are three big-ticket items on which Democrats and Republicans seem to agree.

“Obviously the Senate is waiting on the House with respect to the tax extender package, the way forward on funding the government and the National Defense Authorization Act,” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said Tuesday. “Once those measures are received, we’ll decide how to go forward.”

“I think everybody agrees, on a bipartisan basis, those are three things we simply must do here at the end of the session,” the Kentucky Republican continued. “Fund the government, make sure we don’t have any retroactive tax increases, and follow the tradition of many years, which is to pass a National Defense Authorization Act. I’m confident the Senate will do that before we depart for the holidays.”

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid was on the same page on high-priority legislation. Full story

November 18, 2014

McConnell Cites ISIS in Opposition to Leahy Surveillance Bill

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McConnell opposes efforts to roll back NSA data gathering. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., came out against a surveillance bill sponsored by Sen. Patrick J. Leahy, D-Vt., citing concerns that it could hurt the nation’s ability to combat terrorists like Islamic State.

“Many of these fighters are familiar with America’s intelligence capabilities and many are savvy with communications: these are terrorists who know how to use encryption and they know how to change devices frequently,” McConnell said on the Senate floor. “That’s part of the reason why I’m so strongly opposed to the legislation.”

McConnell is set to become majority leader in the next Congress and his comments will likely make it more difficult for the bill to advance. The Senate is expected to vote on cloture on whether to take up the bill Tuesday evening and 60 votes are needed to move ahead.

McConnell added that he believes the bill would curtail the intelligence community’s surveillance powers and that would “end one of our nation’s critical capabilities to gather significant intelligence on terrorist threats.”

“This is the worst possible time to be tying our hands behind our backs,” McConnell said. Full story

November 13, 2014

White House Praises McConnell on Myanmar

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

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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

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