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December 22, 2014

Posts in "Politics"

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.”

Full story

Heller Pledges Yucca Mountain Will Stay Dead Despite Leaving Energy Committee

clean event008 091714 330x219 Heller Pledges Yucca Mountain Will Stay Dead Despite Leaving Energy Committee

The Yucca Mountain fight continues as committee assignments for the 114th Congress raise questions about what’s next for the issue. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Sen. Dean Heller, R-Nev., pledged that a proposal to build a nuclear waste depository at Yucca Mountain would remain dead, even though he is stepping away from the Energy and Natural Resources Committee to join the Finance Committee.

“I don’t think it changes the dynamics,” Heller said of his new committee assignment for the 114th Congress.

The Nevada congressional delegation, led by outgoing Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, has been effective using every means available, including the power of the purse and regulatory agencies, to prevent the project from resurfacing in the state.

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

December 9, 2014

Watch: John Kerry Testifies on ISIS War

The Senate Foreign Relations Committee holds a 2 p.m. hearing on an Authorization for the Use of Military Force in the United States’ war against the Islamic State, also known as ISIS or ISIL.

Secretary of State John Kerry will testify.

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

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December 8, 2014

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

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

Sticking Around Could Make Portman Senate’s GOP MVP

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(Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

Free from the albatross of a presidential campaign, Sen. Rob Portman is set to play a starring role in helping set the Senate Republican agenda on taxes, spending, trade and more next year.

GOP senators were pleased to hear the news that the Ohio Republican with the gold-plated résumé plans to spend more of the next year in the Capitol than in Iowa and New Hampshire.

“Sen. Portman would be an extraordinarily able president of the United States, but I’m delighted if he’s made that decision, that he’s going to be in the United States Senate. He’s one of our most valuable players,” said Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn.

Taxes and spending have long been in the former budget director’s wheelhouse.

“I think you’ll see in both areas he’ll play a significant role in the next Congress — both on the budget we put together and pass, the reconciliation instructions in there which are very important — and obviously he’ll be one of the lead guys on tax reform,” said Sen. John Hoeven, R-N.D.

Portman, who announced Tuesday he would seek re-election but would not run for president in 2016, was almost tapped by 2012 Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney to be his vice presidential running mate.

“Given Portman’s stature in the Senate and expertise on economic issues, you can expect him to play an outsized role in the new majority; not just because he’s an affable guy, but because he’s got a unique ability to get things done,” a senior Senate Republican aide said.

Portman said his decision not to run for president was based on his desire — now that the GOP will have the majority in the Senate — to take on big issues such as tax policy changes, rewriting energy policy, trade promotion authority and regulatory relief.

“I think getting the majority makes a huge difference,” Portman said at a Wall Street Journal CEO Council event Tuesday. “The Senate has been largely dysfunctional, unable to deal even with the most basic issues and now we have a chance.”

In a Monday interview with Ohio reporters, Portman said he would have been more tempted to run for president had Democrats remained in power.

“I think it would be much harder for me to feel as though I was making a significant difference in the lives of my fellow Ohioans if Harry Reid had stayed in there, because we wouldn’t be doing tax reform or expanding exports or budgets or some of the other oversight responsibilities that we have and are not doing here in the Congress,” he said, according to the Columbus Dispatch.

Portman worked as a legislative affairs director for President George Bush before winning a House seat in 1993. He served for years on the Ways and Means Committee, which handles taxes, trade and health care. President George W. Bush appointed him as the U.S. trade representative in 2005, and the following year he became director of the Office of Management and Budget.

Sen. Jeff Sessions, the Alabama Republican who is ranking member on the Budget Committee, said Portman earned some of his following when, in the OMB post, he managed to win the support of the president for a budget that balanced.

“To do that, he had to tell secretaries and department heads you’re not going to get as much money as you’d like, which is a tough job, and you can’t just cut taxes and increase spending. This won’t work,” Sessions said.

Portman now serves on the Senate Budget and Finance committees, which have a broad economic ambit.

“He has been, and will be this year particularly, an invaluable member of the Budget Committee because as [a former] OMB director he fully understands this process, and his values are good,” said Sessions, who is on the conservative side of the political spectrum.

“He also is one of the top Senate members who understands tax policy, which is a big part of how we are going to be able to produce a budget that’ll work,” Sessions said. “So, he’s an extraordinarily valuable member of the committee and the conference.”

Portman, who speaks in a cool, controlled manner, also has the respect of many, mostly moderate, Democrats and has worked with them on legislation.

Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., sponsored an energy efficiency bill with Portman and hopes that other areas of common interest can be found.

“I’ve enjoyed the partnership we’ve had around energy efficiency and I hope that continues not only on energy issues, but others as well,” Shaheen said.

Portman said Tuesday the energy efficiency measure was on his to-do list for the next Congress. He holds a seat on the Energy and Natural Resources panel.

Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., said she hopes to do important work with Portman. The two could lead the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Subcommittee on Investigations. Portman is interested in being chairman.

“We could really do some important work together there, so I’m looking forward to it,” McCaskill said.

The subcommittee is famous for its broad jurisdiction and subpoena power relating to the efficiency and economy of operations of all branches of the government. Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., is currently that panel’s ranking member, but he is also in line to be Armed Services chairman and conference rules generally preclude leaders of top committees from holding such gavels.

McCaskill has also worked with Portman on legislation, including a measure to streamline the process for building infrastructure projects.

When Sen. Dean Heller, R-Nev., heard Portman was not running for president, he said he joked to his staff, “that means Romney must be running. … That’s the first thing that popped into my mind.”

Heller worked with Portman on an unemployment extension, which passed the Senate only to stall in the House. He welcomed Portman’s decision.

“He’s a great senator, easy to work with, has a great disposition, everybody likes him,” Heller said.

November 25, 2014

Schumer: Health Care Distracted Democrats From the Middle Class

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(Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

Sen. Charles E. Schumer says Democrats need to have a realistic agenda for demonstrating the importance of government to middle class voters, citing a rather unlikely subject as detracting from that message: health care.

“The policy should be simple and easily explained — can it be grasped almost intuitively as something that will help middle-class families?” Schumer said. “Democratic priorities should be achievable. Yes — they must be easy to message, but they have to be a lot more than messaging bills.”

In recent years, Democrats have held no shortage of such votes in the Senate, on proposals they have no expectation of getting the 60 votes needed to overcome procedural hurdles, in part because of persistent Republican opposition.

The messaging chief for Senate Democrats also told an audience at the National Press Club that it was a mistake for Democrats on Capitol Hill and in the White House to prioritize the overhaul of the health care system the way they did when they controlled both chambers back in 2009 and 2010.

“After passing the stimulus, Democrats should have continued to propose middle class-oriented programs and built on the partial success of the stimulus, but unfortunately Democrats blew the opportunity the American people gave them. We took their mandate and put all of our focus on the wrong problem — health care reform,” Schumer said. “The plight of uninsured Americans and the hardships caused by unfair insurance company practices certainly needed to be addressed. But it wasn’t the change we were hired to make.” Full story

November 24, 2014

Rand Paul Wants Senate Vote on Declaring War on ISIS

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Paul wants a Senate vote on ISIS. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Sen. Rand Paul has upped the ante in the debate over the role of Congress in the fight against ISIS.

The Kentucky Republican formally announced Monday he would be introducing a resolution to formally declare war against the terrorist group in Syria and Iraq, setting up the possibility of a contentious vote as part of a potential use of force authorization debate next year.

Full story

November 20, 2014

Senate’s 2015 Calendar Features Fuller Weeks, Fewer Breaks

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(Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

In addition to longer workweeks, it appears the Senate will be in session more frequently in 2015.

As expected, the Senate will kick off work in the 114th Congress on Jan. 6, and the chamber isn’t expected to take a full week break until Presidents Day. That’s according to a draft calendar obtained by CQ Roll Call that shows the Senate in recess the third week in February, for the two weeks around Easter Sunday (which falls on April 5), and the weeks of Memorial Day and the Fourth of July.

Full story

November 12, 2014

Watch: Senate Committee Holds Hearing on Ebola Outbreak

The Senate Appropriations Committee holds a 2 p.m. hearing Wednesday on the U.S. response to the Ebola virus, which has killed more than 4,900 people since the outbreak began in December 2013.

Dr. Thomas R. Frieden, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, and Sylvia Mathews Burwell, secretary of Health and Human Services, will testify.

Additional witnesses include officials from the Departments of Homeland Security, Defense and State and USAID.

Roll Call Results Map: Results and District Profiles for Every Seat

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November 5, 2014

Lott: Cruz, Paul, Rubio, Portman Won’t Win 2016 GOP Nomination

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Lott doesn’t think Paul or his Senate colleagues are heading to the White House. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

Former Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott, R-Miss., doesn’t believe that any of his Senate colleagues stand much of a chance in the 2016 GOP presidential primary and he said he gives the edge to the nation’s Republican governors.

“Clearly governors over senators,” Lott said when asked his preference.

His comments come as GOP Sens. Rob Portman of Ohio, Ted Cruz of Texas, Rand Paul of Kentucky and Marco Rubio of Florida — and possibly others — could seek the nomination.

“I think the American people really will be looking for a governor,” Lott said. “I don’t think any of our senators are really going to be that viable in 2016, partially because you vote every day and your record can be twisted around your neck every day.” Full story

After Catching a Wave, Senate Republicans Look to Legislate

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Moran, right, with Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kan., on the campaign trail. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Having emerged from an Election Day that many Republicans only dreamed of, the Senate Republicans’ campaign chairman was already looking forward to a Senate starting to function again.

Sen. Jerry Moran, R-Kan., told a home state radio station that frustration with the lack of legislative activity contributed to his seeking the campaign job in the first place.

“This place has been run, for the four years I’ve been in the United States Senate, with the goal of doing nothing,” the chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee said on KNSS. “Boy, this place better change. It’s why I was willing to chair the Senate campaign committee, is to get us in a position in which Sen. Reid was not the leader with the plan to do nothing, and I intend as a member of the United States Senate — not as a Republican senator but as a Kansan, as an American — to do everything I can to see that we work to accomplish things.” Full story

October 30, 2014

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

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(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 20, 2014

Mikulski Sets Senate Ebola Hearing Two Days After Elections (Updated)

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Mikulski will hold a post-election Ebola hearing. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Updated 2:15 p.m. | As the threat of the Ebola virus in the United States appears to be easing, Senate Appropriations Chairwoman Barbara A. Mikulski announced she would hold a hearing on the issue two days after voters are scheduled to go to the polls.

The hearing is set for Nov. 6, and would be the first in the Democratic-run Senate since the first U.S. Ebola case was discovered in Dallas. The hearing could take on increased urgency if the Obama administration follows through on sending over a supplemental spending request. A Democratic aide said appropriators were told to expect a request for Ebola funding as soon as this week but did not have any details on its scope or whether it would be designated as emergency funding.

Sen. Jerry Moran of Kansas, the top Republican on the subcommittee that funds the Department of Health and Human Services, has been pushing for a new hearing on Ebola. Moran visited the University of Kansas hospital last week, where he said the situation had changed since a joint hearing last month of the Appropriations subcommittee and the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee.

Full story

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