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March 1, 2015

Posts in "Potpourri"

February 26, 2015

Strong Leaving the Senate, Heading to Wisconsin for Walker

Strong is leaving Thune's office to work for Walker's political operation. (Tom Williams/CQ Eoll Call)

Strong is leaving Thune’s office to work for Walker’s political operation. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker’s political operation has lured one of the top Republican communicators in the Senate away from the chamber.

Walker’s bringing on AshLee Strong, the spokeswoman for the Senate Republican Conference, as national press secretary to be based in Madison, a Walker aide confirmed to CQ Roll Call. She has worked for Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., for more than four years, most recently as senior communications director and chief spokesperson, and is departing the Senate after the Republicans regained the majority.

“AshLee has been a trusted advisor of mine for several years so this is bittersweet for me. I’m sad to see her go but this is a tremendous opportunity for her,” Thune said in a statement. “She’s one of the smartest communicators out there and Gov. Walker is fortunate to have her on his team.”

Full story

February 18, 2015

Hawaii Internment Camp Monument a Legacy of Akaka, Inouye

(CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Akaka and Inouye led efforts to secure the monument designation. (CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Thursday’s expected announcement from President Barack Obama that the Honouliuli internment camp will become a national monument will bring to fruition an effort that dates to Hawaii’s former senators.

The process to secure the monument designation began in earnest in 2009, in much the same way many of Hawaii’s federal projects have originated for decades: through inclusion of language in an appropriations bill by the late Sen. Daniel K. Inouye, D-Hawaii. Full story

February 4, 2015

Bipartisan Lunch Gets Plaudits, but Senate Still Stuck

From left, Sens. Gary Peters, D-Mich., Susan Collins, R-Maine, and Jack Reed, D-R.I., arrive for the bipartisan Senate luncheon in the Kennedy Caucus Room in the Russell Senate Office Building Wednesday. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

From left, Sens. Gary Peters, D-Mich., Susan Collins, R-Maine, and Jack Reed, D-R.I., arrive for the bipartisan Senate luncheon in the Kennedy Caucus Room in the Russell Senate Office Building Wednesday. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

Baby steps.

The first bipartisan Senate lunch brought praise from both sides of the aisle Wednesday, but anyone expecting instant results will be disappointed.

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 16, 2014

Durbin and Schumer Split Up

Alpha House

Schumer and Durbin are moving out. (Douglas Graham/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

The Senate’s longstanding D.C. roommates have gone their separate ways.

Democratic Sens. Richard J. Durbin of Illinois and Charles E. Schumer of New York had long rented space in a Capitol Hill row house owned by Rep. George Miller.

The retirement of the California Democrat left the two Senate Democratic leaders with a problem.

Full story

December 15, 2014

Ahead of Holidays, Schumer Slams High Cost of Flying (Video)

Charles Schumer, D-NY, speaks during the press conference on the Fair Shot Agenda to lower interest rates on student loan debt on Wednesday, May 14, 2014. (Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

Schumer wants to know why airlines are adding a fuel surcharge with fuel prices on the decline. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

How does a senator spend his only off-day during the end-of-session holiday rush? If you’re Charles E. Schumer, you go home to New York and hold a news conference about the high price of airline tickets.

“What adds insult to injury is a lot of the airlines, when prices were going up added a surcharge, a fuel surcharge. Well, that fuel surcharge is still on the tickets even though prices are going down,” said Schumer, the No. 3 man in Senate Democratic leadership.

Full story

December 1, 2014

Tom Harkin — From Tiger Cages to Pinochet

Harkin, right, listens to Cau Nguyen Loi describe what it was like to be shackled and beaten inside a 'tiger cage' on Con Son Island, Vietnam. (POOL/AFP/Getty Images File Photo)

Harkin, right, listens to Cau Nguyen Loi describe what it was like to be shackled and beaten inside a ‘tiger cage’ on Con Son Island, Vietnam. (POOL/AFP/Getty Images File Photo)

Sen. Tom Harkin’s human rights legacy began with exposing the tiger cages in a secret South Vietnam prison.

“Let me show you,” the retiring Iowa Democrat said as he retrieved a large, clear plastic bag that contained a July 1970 edition of Life magazine. The magazine published photos Harkin took as a congressional aide depicting abuse of political prisoners by the U.S.-supported South Vietnamese government.

His work in Vietnam led to an interest in human rights that’s remained with him throughout his career, including an effort that made protecting human rights a criterion for receiving U.S. aid, a role in the downfall of Augusto Pinochet, efforts to fight child labor and securing funding for the Bureau of International Labor Affairs.

But it all started with the tiger cages.
Full story

November 28, 2014

Tom Harkin Is Reflecting, but Trying Not to Stare

Harkin is interviewed by CQ Roll Call in his Capitol Hill office. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

Harkin is interviewed by CQ Roll Call in his Capitol Hill office. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

At the end of an extended interview in his Senate office, Tom Harkin realized he had neglected to show off a prized possession — his father’s Works Progress Administration card.

It’s the role of government policies like the WPA that have guided the progressive Iowa Democrat’s career.

The Depression-era WPA was one of the progressive planks of Franklin D. Roosevelt, and Harkin is very much in the mold of the generation that followed FDR. But Harkin has shown a knack, not unlike the late Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, for working with Republicans when he needs to get a bill across the finish line.

Some of that, of course, depends on having a willing partner across the aisle, and on that front Harkin will say he’s been fortunate.

At a recent bill signing, President Barack Obama praised Harkin and his GOP counterpart, Lamar Alexander of Tennessee, for their Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee getting 21 measures to his desk this Congress.

“Well, that’s because you and Lamar are some pretty productive legislators who actually have focused on getting stuff done,” Obama said of Harkin’s recent successes.

Two deals with senior colleagues Harkin made early on set the course for his 30-year Senate career.

Harkin, who opted to retire rather than seek a sixth Senate term, agreed to join what was then the Education and Labor Committee, after the liberal lion Kennedy offered to create a disability policy subcommittee and hand Harkin wide latitude. That helped lead to the signature Americans with Disabilities Act and the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). Those laws changed not only the way the public treated individuals with disabilities, Harkin said, but also the way many viewed the world.

“The way I describe the ADA generation is that kids that were born after that — or in your time coming of age — that their expectations changed. In the old days, if you had a disability and you were a child … you just were told not to expect a heck of a lot. Barriers were there: educational barriers, work barriers, transportation barriers, attitudinal barriers, some of which still exist. But, you just had lower expectations,” Harkin told CQ Roll Call. (One of the reporters conducting this interview was among the first beneficiaries of IDEA.)

“Kids that grew up with [Individualized Education Programs] and with access and support services and things like that are now saying, ‘Wait a minute, I don’t want lowered expectations,'” Harkin said.

The bipartisan Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act, one of the HELP Committee’s big success stories this Congress, aims to improve on the transition from school to work for individuals with disabilities.

“We haven’t been preparing them to do that in the past,” Harkin said. “A lot of times the kids with IEPs, they get through, and they sort of just drop off the edge. They haven’t been given summer jobs, job coaching, internships. They haven’t been taken to colleges.” Full story

November 7, 2014

Could Obama-McConnell Liquor Choice Invite Look at Bourbon Laws?

Bourbon laws could get another look with renewed attention from Obama and McConnell. (CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Could bourbon laws get another look after an Obama-McConnell summit? (CQ Roll Call File Photo)

There was no sign of brown liquor President Barack Obama’s Friday lunch meeting with bipartisan political leaders, but the bourbon industry is using renewed attention to press its own lobbying interests.

At the top of that list is the issue of the tax treatment of the whiskey that’s aging in barrels in warehouses.

By law, bourbon must age for at least two years, and distillers tend to age the brown spirit far longer than that. But the way inventory rules work in the tax code, costs can’t be deducted along the way. Legislation already introduced by Mitch McConnell and his fellow Kentucky Republican, Rep. Andy Barr, proposes a change so the aging process would not be considered part of the production period. Every single Kentucky lawmaker, including Sen. Rand Paul, is on board.

With tax reform a possible area of compromise in the coming months, Obama’s suggestion he “would enjoy having some Kentucky bourbon with Mitch McConnell” might be well-timed for bourbon moneymakers.

Full story

October 22, 2014

Coburn’s ‘Wastebook’ Targets Include Mountain Lions, Sheep, Beer (Video)

Coburn released his annual "wastebook" Tuesday. This year's edition is replete with cartoons. (Douglas Graham/CQ Roll Call)

Coburn, pictured here unveiling the 2013 Wastebook. (Douglas Graham/CQ Roll Call)

Sen. Tom Coburn and his investigators have been busy in their most recent effort to unveil what they view as government waste and abuse.

The 2014 edition of the Oklahoma Republican’s annual “Wastebook” runs almost 250 pages and features more than 1,100 footnotes. It’s presumably the last such report Coburn will issue from his Senate perch, as he’s resigning his seat early at the end of the current Congress.

As in previous editions, the report highlights billions of dollars of projects that Coburn views as wasteful government spending.

“This report, the fifth annual Wastebook, gives a snapshot of just a fraction of the countless frivolous projects the government funded in the past twelve months with borrowed money and your tax dollars,” Coburn wrote in the report’s introduction. “Every year taxpayers, regardless of their personal political leanings, raise their eyebrows and shake their heads in disbelief at how billions of dollars that could be been better spent — or not spent at all — were squandered.” Full story

October 14, 2014

Senate Odd Couple Seeks Common Ground on Climate Change

Manchin, left, and Whitehouse measure fish as part of a Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management survey. (Niels Lesniewski/CQ Roll Call)

Manchin, left, and Whitehouse measure fish as part of a Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management survey. (Niels Lesniewski/CQ Roll Call)

POINT JUDITH, R.I. — A visit to the Ocean State’s eroding shoreline didn’t prompt West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin III to change his mind about Environmental Protection Agency regulation of carbon emissions, but his host wasn’t expecting that sort of evolution.

RollCall-On-the-Road-Logo(300x300)“I didn’t invite Sen. Manchin here thinking that he was suddenly going to have an epiphany and turn into a ‘greenie’ and come to the next climate march with me,” Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse told reporters after the two Democrats took a daylong tour of coastal Rhode Island on Oct. 10.

“What I do think though is that he is a smart and reasonable voice from the prototype coal state who has very, very good relations with a lot of our most conservative members of the Senate, some of whom believe that the whole climate change problem is a conspiracy designed as a foil to allow people to expand the role of government and take away freedom,” the Rhode Islander continued.

You would be hard-pressed to find two Democratic senators who more clearly demonstrate the party’s divide on energy and environmental issues, so it was notable when they announced plans to visit each others’ states to discuss energy and climate policy.

Manchin followed through on the first half of the bargain last week, joining with Whitehouse in meeting with oceanography experts, fishermen, environmental officials and residents and business owners at risk of seeing their properties washed away by rising tides.

Full story

October 9, 2014

Goodell Responds to Boxer, Says NFL Will Not Tolerate Domestic Violence

(Scott J. Ferrell/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

(Scott J. Ferrell/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

The National Football League has responded to one of its foremost critics in the Senate, and this time she’s optimistic about what Commissioner Roger Goodell had to say.

Sen. Barbara Boxer on Thursday released two separate letters dated this month from Goodell and Cynthia Hogan, the new NFL senior vice president for public policy and government affairs, praising each. Boxer had initially led a letter to Goodell from a group of a total of female 16 senators seeking the league to enact a policy of zero tolerance for incidents of domestic violence. She followed up directly with Hogan in subsequent correspondence.

Goodell’s letter, which Boxer’s office has posted here, says the NFL will not tolerate domestic violence and outlines the steps the league is already taking to change the way it handles domestic abuse cases following incidents involving Ray Rice and other professional football players. Full story

October 2, 2014

Toomey Blasts College for Inviting Mumia Abu-Jamal to Speak

Pat Toomey Mumia Abu-Jamal Goddard College

(Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Sen. Patrick J. Toomey blasted a Vermont college for choosing Mumia Abu-Jamal to give the commencement address and urged the invitation be rescinded.

“I cannot fathom how anyone could think it appropriate to honor a cold-blooded murderer — one who ambushed a police officer, shot that officer in the back, and while that officer lay wounded and defenseless on the ground, lowered a gun to the officer’s face and took his life. Abu-Jamal has never apologized or expressed any regret for his heinous crime,” the Pennsylvania Republican said in a letter to Robert Kenny, Goddard College’s interim president.

Abu-Jamal, a Goddard alumnus, is a black nationalist who was convicted and sentenced to death in 1982 for the murder of white Philadelphia Police Officer Daniel Faulkner. After a lengthy appeals process, prosecutors decided not to seek the death penalty, but Abu-Jamal remains in prison without the possibility of parole. Full story

By Humberto Sanchez Posted at 1:22 p.m.
Potpourri

September 30, 2014

Senators Laud FCC Rollback of Sports Blackout Rule

(Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Booker, who played football in college, applauded the FCC’s rule change vote. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Senators on Tuesday lauded the Federal Communications Commission’s move to do away with the rule that, in effect, keeps National Football League games that don’t sell out off the air in hometown markets.

Sen. Cory Booker, who played tight end in college at Stanford University, was among the lawmakers thanking the FCC for taking the action on a unanimous vote.

Full story

September 22, 2014

Barbara Boxer Blasts NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell’s News Conference in New Letter (Video)

(Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

(Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Sen. Barbara Boxer is making a personal appeal to the new National Football League executive in charge of government affairs, calling for more action to address domestic violence.

In the letter, the California Democrat notes past work by Cynthia Hogan, the NFL’s new senior vice president of public policy and government affairs and previous senior aide to Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr., but it’s sharply critical of Hogan’s new boss, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell.

Full story

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