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January 25, 2015

Posts in "Politics"

January 22, 2015

Graham: Anti-Abortion Bill Will Return, but ‘Nobody’s for Rape’

(Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

(Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

The lead Senate sponsor of anti-abortion legislation that was pulled from the House schedule late Wednesday said Thursday it should not move forward without changes to the rape provision.

But Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., said he was looking forward to a debate on abortion policy once the issues with the bill are resolved.

“This is going to be about wholesale abortions on demand in 20 weeks, five months into pregnancy, and it won’t be about rape,” Graham said. “Nobody’s for rape.”

Full story

January 20, 2015

Rand Paul’s Message: ‘Do No Harm’ In Foreign Affairs

Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., makes his way through the basement of the Capitol before a vote on the Senate floor, December 12, 2014. (Photo By Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

Paul will have his own response to the State of the Union address. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Possible 2016 contender Sen. Rand Paul says that the foreign policy potion of his own response to Tuesday’s State of the Union address will focus on an old adage from his medical career: “Do no harm.”

“I think one the biggest things about foreign policy is that you should think before you act, and that’s one of the themes that I’ll have tonight is: First, do no harm. As physicians, we’re taught first to do no harm, which means think through,” the Kentucky Republican said. “You have enormous power as a surgeon. Before you cut into someone, make sure you have the right diagnosis. Try not to make mistakes.”

Paul is issuing his own video response, separate from the official message to be delivered by Sen. Joni Ernst, R-Iowa.

In an interview in his Washington office ahead of the speech by President Barack Obama, Paul used the potential for additional sanctions against Iran over its nuclear program as an example where Congress should avoid doing such harm. Full story

January 15, 2015

Ernst Gives GOP #SOTU Rebuttal a Folksy Feel

State of the Union 2015

Ernst heads to the Senate subway following a vote on Jan. 8. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

Republicans are going folksy with their choice to respond to President Obama’s State of the Union address.

Speaker John A. Boehner, R-Ohio, and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., jointly announced at their retreat Thursday that Sen. Joni Ernst, R-Iowa, would deliver the Republicans’ rebuttal.

Ernst, who upset former Rep. Bruce Braley, D-Iowa in 2014 as one of the party’s majority-makers, gained notoriety during her campaign for an ad she ran conflating her childhood on the farm castrating pigs with her ability to cut government spending. Full story

January 13, 2015

Menendez Staffer Bids Farewell to Hill Life

O'Brien is leaving Capitol Hill to join General Electric. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

O’Brien is leaving Capitol Hill to join General Electric. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

Danny O’Brien never had a career path plotted out — certainly not one that included serving as Senate Foreign Relations Committee staff director for the past two years, in the Clinton White House or in senior Senate posts for now-Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. and Sen. Robert Menendez, D-N.J.

Now, after more than 20 years in the public sector, O’Brien is calling it quits to join General Electric’s global government affairs team. Full story

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 29, 2014

A Look Back at 2014 in the WGDB

The Senate leaders appeared together at a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing in June on the subject of campaign finance. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

The Senate leaders appeared together at a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing in June on the subject of campaign finance. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

As we close the books on the 113th Congress, and the first full calendar year for this blog, it’s our turn to again thank you, the readers, for joining us throughout the year as we’ve followed the ebbs and flows of the Senate.

We’ve covered issues with national and international implications — including debates over the debt limit and federal spending, nuclear talks with Iran and the threat posed by the terror group ISIS. But we’ve also spent time closer to home,  documenting staff changes and life operating under the Dome.

Full story

December 22, 2014

Senator Calls on White House to Host Showing of Pulled Sony Film

(Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Vitter wants the White House to hold a screening of the Sony film “The Interview.” (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

One senator wants President Barack Obama to invite members of Congress to the White House for a screening of “The Interview.”

That’s the James Franco and Seth Rogen comedy from Sony Pictures Entertainment that the studio pulled after a hacking which the FBI says North Korea is responsible for. The movie plot centers on an effort to kill North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un.

In a Dec. 19 letter to Obama, Sen. David Vitter, R-La., said the president should host an event to show the movie when the 114th Congress convenes in January.

Full story

December 16, 2014

Democrats Close Out Majority With Wins on Nominations

(Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

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

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

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?

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

December 9, 2014

Watch: John Kerry Testifies on ISIS War

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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

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

December 2, 2014

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

Senate legislation

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

(Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

(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

(Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

(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

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