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January 25, 2015

Posts in "Mitch McConnell"

January 23, 2015

McConnell Shows He’s the Boss

(Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

(Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

The honeymoon may be over for Mitch McConnell.

The Kentucky Republican’s open-process experiment took a turn Thursday night when the newly minted majority leader showed his patience has its limits, as he forced a series of votes to table Democratic amendments and refused to allow their sponsors a minute to explain them.

Full story

January 22, 2015

Wendell Ford, Longtime Kentucky Senator, Dies at 90

Ford, left, made sure to attend Grimes' election eve rally in November. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Ford, left, made sure to attend Grimes’ election eve rally in November. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Kentucky political legend and purveyor of Southern wit Wendell H. Ford has died.

Ford, 90, had been undergoing treatment for lung cancer.

A Democrat, Ford served in the Senate for 24 years before retiring at the end of his fourth term in 1999. Prior to being elected to the Senate, Ford served as Kentucky governor, lieutenant governor and did a stint in the state Senate.

Full story

January 12, 2015

Power Takes Obama’s Iran Case to Kentucky

(Tom Fougerousse/University of Louisville)

Power is the first Cabinet member to appear with McConnell since he became majority leader. (Tom Fougerousse/University of Louisville)

America’s top diplomat at the United Nations took the Obama administration’s case against enhancing Iran sanctions to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s home turf Monday — delivering remarks that sounded like a State of the Union prelude.

Ambassador Samantha Power reiterated the administration’s view that “increasing sanctions would dramatically undermine our efforts” to halt nuclear weapons development by the Iranians in talks, which have been extended through June.

“First, imposing new sanctions now will almost certainly end a negotiations process that has not only frozen the advance of Iran’s nuclear program, but that could lead us to an understanding that would give us confidence in its exclusively peaceful nature. If new sanctions were imposed, Iran would be able to blame the U.S. for sabotaging the negotiations and causing the collapse of the process, and we would lose the chance to peacefully resolve a major national security challenge,” Power said. “Second, … new sanctions will actually likely weaken the sanctions pressure on Iran, by undermining crucial international support for the existing multilateral sanctions on Iran.”

Power’s comments about Iran came when McConnell, a Kentucky Republican, was just steps away. They were part of a wide-ranging foreign policy address sponsored by his namesake McConnell Center on the University of Louisville campus. The Senate majority leader has said bringing additional conditional sanctions against Iran to the Senate floor for a vote is among his early priorities in 2015.

Power became the first Cabinet member to make a public appearance with McConnell since his elevation to majority leader earlier in January.

“Amidst all of this apparent rancor and partisanship, you in the audience might be a bit surprised to see a member of President [Barack] Obama’s cabinet — and the ambassador to the United Nations, no less — down here in Kentucky at the invitation of the new Republican Senate majority leader,” Power said. “You might wonder whether I’m here to pick a fight or walk into an ambush.”

Much of the speech focused not on Capitol Hill partisan battles, but on areas where the two parties have found common ground, from the response to the outbreak of Ebola in Africa to U.S. efforts to support pro-democracy efforts in Myanmar, formerly Burma.

McConnell has long made the situation in Myanmar a priority, and Power praised his work with California Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein on sanctions against the repressive military junta that contributed to the country opening up and moving in a pro-democratic direction. But, the progress has been at times tepid.

“That is the challenge we face today: ensuring that Burma builds on the areas in which it has made progress, and avoids backsliding. And we have to be prepared to adapt our strategy to the conditions we observe, including setbacks. We — and when I say we, I am confident Leader McConnell shares this view — we have to examine every tool in our toolkit and ask: How can we take steps that may contribute to empowering the Burmese people and helping the country move towards genuine democratic reform?” Power said. “Our tools include incentivizing continued progress, shining a bright light on the government’s shortcomings, and imposing targeted sanctions on individuals who stand in the way of change.”

In addition to discussing democratic development in Myanmar, Power acknowledged differences of opinion about the Obama administration’s engagement with Cuba.

“Some of the embargo’s staunchest defenders are Democrats and Republicans with deep ties to the island — people whose families came to America fleeing the Castros’ repression. These are men and women who are completely dedicated to doing all they can to ensure that Cubans on the island get to enjoy true freedom. So it is important to acknowledge that while there may be disagreements on the best way to get there, we share a common goal of advancing the rights of the Cuban people,” Power said.

She reiterated the administration’s view that after decades of the embargo against Cuba failing to bring about the desired outcome, it was time to change the strategy.

“The changes President Obama announced take away the Castros’ most trusted alibi for abuse, helping empower the Cuban people to secure the greater freedoms they want and deserve,” she said. “The change in policy also denies repressive governments in the region the ability to continue cynically to use our Cuba policy to deflect attention from their own abuses, such as Ecuador’s crackdown on the press, or Venezuela’s imprisonment of key opposition leaders.”


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

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January 6, 2015

Keystone Debate to Test Waters of New Senate

(Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

(Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

Sen. Mitch McConnell has waited years for the moment he’ll take the reins of a dysfunctional chamber and try and show Republicans can govern.

He’ll face tests right off the bat — from how to handle the filibuster rules changes that have divided his conference to keeping the Senate on topic as he looks to clear a series of bipartisan bills to kick off the year, starting with approving the Keystone XL pipeline.

“We’ll hope that senators on both sides will offer energy-related amendments, but there will be no effort to try to … micromanage the amendment process,” the Kentucky Republican said last month, when announcing his plan to bring Keystone to the floor first.

It’s part of a plan, nearly a year in the making, to get the new majority off to a fast start. Full story

December 16, 2014

McConnell Puts Keystone First on the Agenda (Video)

(Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

(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?

Ted Cruz

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

(Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

(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

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

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

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

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.”


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

Get breaking news alerts and more from Roll Call in your inbox or on your iPhone.

December 10, 2014

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

(Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

(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)

CIA Torture Report

(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

Mitch McConnell

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

Immigration reform Mitch McConnell

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

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

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

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