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July 29, 2014

Posts in "Procedure"

July 21, 2014

Nomination Backlog Frustrates Administration, Democrats as August Looms

A pileup of nominations — particularly for scores of would-be U.S. ambassadors — has the Obama administration pushing hard for Senate action ahead of the August recess, while senators want to get home to campaign before the midterms.

There are 224 executive and 29 judicial nominations awaiting Senate action, according to the White House, including many whose lives have been on hold for a year or more. The Senate last year used the “nuclear option” to change the rules so a simple majority can confirm most nominations — and that move has shrunk the judicial backlog.

But a backlog has built up in executive branch nominees, including 56 ambassadors.

Last week, Secretary of State John Kerry called Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., to voice concern over the pileup, and a State Department spokesman said the former Massachusetts senator was expected to speak by phone with Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., on Monday while traveling in the Middle East.

“We hope the Senate will come to agreement to confirm nominees before heading into recess,” Assistant Secretary Doug Frantz said in a statement Monday. ”There is plenty of time remaining in July to do so, particularly if they can reach an agreement to approve the career nominees in a block as Secretary Kerry has proposed.”

“We are redoubling our efforts on ambassadors,” said a senior Senate Democratic aide. But that doesn’t necessarily mean Democrats are about to threaten the August break to confirm them.

“These ambassadors are America’s front lines, fighting to defend our interests abroad — our security interests, our national interests, and our economic interests,” Reid said last week. ”Right now, there are gaping holes in our nation’s front lines. … A quarter of all American embassies are without an ambassador.”

After the rules change, Republicans retaliated by slow-walking numerous nominees; the rules change allowed a simple majority to advance nominees but kept in place time limits that allow Republicans to force Democrats to burn days of floor time to get to a final vote.

“Some Senate observers say that Republicans are stalling these nominations as payback for the rules changes instituted by the Senate,” Reid said. “Let me see if I can wrap my head around this — Republicans are stalling executive nominees vital to our national security to get back at Democrats? To get back at me? Stalling these nominees is jeopardizing America’s interests abroad. It is damaging our nation’s role in global affairs. It is damaging our national security. Is this conjured-up political retribution worth harming the U.S.?”

Republicans say Democrats only have themselves to blame.

“Their complaint assumes there should be no consequences for Majority Leader Reid breaking the rules of the Senate to change the rules on the processing of nominations,” the Senate Republican Policy Committee wrote in an issue brief. “The consequences of that act were predictable. Senator Obama predicted the consequences himself when a rules change was contemplated in 2005, saying, ‘If they choose to change the rules and put an end to democratic debate, then the fighting, the bitterness, and the gridlock will only get worse.’”

The nominations backlog in the ambassadorial ranks has been a recurring topic of discussion at the regular State Department press briefings in recent weeks.

State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki likened the Kerry proposal to accelerate career appointees to the way the Senate treats military promotions.

“And just to not to put too fine a point on it, obviously for America to continue to play a strong role in the world, we need equal treatment for diplomats, we need to have ambassadors and our representatives on the front lines in these countries around the world,” she said on July 9.

Asked if the nuclear option has contributed to the backlog, Psaki dismissed the contention.

“There has been a logjam in the Senate on the Senate floor about nominations and legislation long before … Majority Leader Reid moved forward with the nuclear option several months ago. That was put in place because there was a complete deadlock on getting anything done in the Senate at all,” she said.

Democrats have also highlighted delays of top veterans’ officials — some waiting more than a year for confirmation even as the crisis at the Department of Veterans Affairs unfolded.

Numerous other would-be officials are awaiting their fate. If they don’t get confirmation before the August recess, they’ll be waiting months longer for confirmation — or be stalled forever — given that the Senate will have a limited schedule before the November elections and faces a lame-duck session where floor time will be at a premium.

At some point, Senate Democrats could deploy the nuclear option again to cut down on what the Senate aide calls the “slow-motion temper tantrum.”

At the beginning of this Congress in January 2013, the chamber adopted a bipartisan agreement that reduced the post-cloture debate time for certain nominations. That agreement will expire at the end of the year.

If they manage to maintain the majority, Democrats would have to either negotiate time rules with Republicans or use the nuclear option again.

Given the mounting frustrations, “If it comes to a head, the caucus will be more supportive,” the aide predicted.

Correction 6:42 p.m.

An earlier version of this post misattributed the quote from the Republican Policy Committee.

 

July 9, 2014

Sportmen’s Bill Faces Gun Amendment Gauntlet (Updated)

reid 227 032614 445x296 Sportmens Bill Faces Gun Amendment Gauntlet (Updated)

(Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Updated 1:01 p.m. | The bipartisan sportsmen’s bill appeared on the verge of collapse Wednesday.

As usual, the feud is about considering amendments. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., moved to block all amendments by filling the amendment tree and end debate, but said he was willing to consider a limited number.

“If you want an amendment process, bring me a reasonable list that leads to passage of the bill,” he said of the GOP.

Republicans have been calling for an open amendment process, and have proposed numerous gun amendments that threaten to turn the bill into a political minefield.

Senate Energy and Natural Resources ranking member Lisa Murkowski, the lead Republican compiling the package with Democrat Kay Hagan of North Carolina, gave an all-too-familiar floor speech about oft-mythical “regular order.”

The Alaska Republican conceded the Senate was “probably unlikely” to move forward on the bipartisan assortment of bills without considering an assortment of relevant amendments. Relevancy is a broader standard than germaneness, meaning any deal might well include a slew of uncomfortable gun votes.

“The Republican Conference is absolutely prepared to vote on all relevant amendments,” Murkowski said. “Let’s get moving on these relevant amendments.”

Murkowski noted that not all amendments are broad in scope.

“I know that Sen. [Mary L.] Landrieu has an amendment that’s very unique to Louisiana,” Murkowski said, citing a proposal from the Energy and Natural Resources chairwoman about deer hunting rights.

But it isn’t amendments such as Landrieu’s that are likely to cause trouble. There are firearm policy amendments being lined up on both sides. That includes everything from the interstate transportation of ammunition to a sweeping overhaul of gun control in the District of Columbia. That last amendment has been filed by Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky.

On the other side, Majority Whip Richard J. Durbin wants to impose stiff criminal penalties for “straw purchasers” of firearms, citing the spate of violence last weekend in Chicago in a Wednesday morning floor speech. Other Democrats  advocating firearm safety are working on proposals as well, including Sen. Christopher S. Murphy, D-Conn.

Durbin noted that his home state of Illinois has regions with very different views on firearm ownership.

“I think I may be an exception, but I welcome this debate. I want this debate. I want an opportunity to raise important issues about gun violence and gun safety in america,” Durbin said. “And I’m going to offer an amendment … which stiffens the penalties for those who purchase guns to give them to another person or sell them to another person to commit a crime.”

“What I said in Chicago, i’ll say on the floor of the Senate. Girlfriends, wake up. When that thug sends (you) to buy a gun, under this amendment, you … run the risk of spending 15 years of your life in a federal prison,” the Illinois Democrat said.

Durbin sounded a similar tone to Murkowski about the possibility the amendment process might not work, however.

“This senator is going to offer this amendment. I hope I get my chance,” Durbin said. “I hope the filibusters don’t stop me.”

It’s unclear where exactly such a filibuster might come from, but it could plausibly be from both sides of the aisle, given the political risks associated with opening the door to a broad gun safety debate.

Sarah Chacko contributed to this story.

June 11, 2014

Senate Passes Intelligence Authorization Without Debate

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(Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Wednesday was a busier day in the Senate than many people know.

The chamber continued a productive Wednesday — following up on a sweeping emergency veterans’ aid bill by passing an intelligence authorization without any fanfare.

The voice vote approval of the fiscal 2014 bill came as part of the customary Senate wrap-up process, passing following a request on the floor from Senate Majority Harry Reid, D-Nev., without significant floor debate.

In order for legislation to pass through the unanimous consent process used at the end of each Senate session day, it generally must clear through the Senate’s internal hotline, which in the modern era is an internal email system through which senators and their staffs are notified of measures that the leaders of the two parties would like to advance.

Full story

May 13, 2014

Medical Device Tax Repeal Vote Sought by GOP (Video)

hatch012714 438x335 Medical Device Tax Repeal Vote Sought by GOP (Video)

(Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Republicans are eager to attach a repeal of a medical device surtax to the tax cut extension package on the Senate floor, but the chamber’s top Democrat seems to have no appetite for it.

The disagreement only increases the likelihood that the broader $85 billion tax extenders bill will join a long list of measures having trouble getting off the Senate floor. The larger bill would revive a package of more than 50 tax breaks that have expired.

“For some reason they don’t want to have that vote,” said Finance ranking member Orrin G. Hatch, R-Utah, referring to the Democratic position on rolling back the 2.3 percent medical device tax. “A lot of companies are leaving America to go overseas.” Full story

May 8, 2014

Democratic Senator Proposes Banning Recess Until Congress Adopts Balanced Budget

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Walsh wants senators to stop going on recess until they pass a balanced budget. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Freshman Sen. John Walsh introduced a bill Thursday that would block congressional recesses until there’s an agreement on a budget resolution that balances within a decade.

Walsh was appointed in February to fill the unexpired term of fellow Montana Democrat Max Baucus, who resigned from the Senate to become ambassador to China.

“Montana families don’t leave work before the job is done, and Congress shouldn’t get taxpayer-funded trips back home until they’ve addressed the national debt,” Walsh said in a statement. “This is the issue I hear most about from Montanans and I’m sure our neighbors across the country agree that Congress must solve this issue before going back home to ask their constituents for votes. What’s more, we have to responsibly address this issue, which means I won’t allow cuts to Medicare, Social Security and other programs that serve our most vulnerable Americans.”

Full story

Reid Says Koch Brothers Are ‘One of the Main Causes’ of Climate Change (Video)

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Reid laid into the Koch brothers again on Thursday. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

Amid the stalling energy efficiency and Keystone XL pipeline debate in the Senate, Majority Leader Harry Reid has once again resorted to blaming the Koch brothers for their “radical agenda,” on Wednesday calling the two principal owners of Koch Industries “one of the main causes” of climate change.

“The multi-zillionaire Koch brothers … they are one of the main causes of [climate change], not a cause, one of the main causes,” the Nevada Democrat said on the Senate floor. “Charles and David Koch are waging a war against anything that protects the environment. Now I know that sounds absurd, but it’s true.”

On Tuesday, The White House released a report detailing the effects of climate change, which was met with a bipartisan blast of hot air in Congress.

Despite trading talking points with Reid on Tuesday, Senate Republican amendments were blocked on Wednesday when Reid “filled the tree” on the Shaheen-Portman energy efficiency bill.

Niels Lesniewski and Humberto Sanchez contributed to this report.

April 8, 2014

Leahy Defends Senators’ Role in Vetting Judges in Their States

Senate Luncheons 42 060413 445x297 Leahy Defends Senators Role in Vetting Judges in Their States

(Douglas Graham/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Senate Judiciary Chairman Patrick J. Leahy has again come to the defense of allowing home-state senators to block the nominations of federal judges in their states, even when the senators are Republicans.

The Vermont Democrat penned an opinion piece for Sunday’s Rutland Herald after the newspaper picked up a New York Times editorial calling for the end of the “blue slip” consent process under which the Judiciary Committee declines to move forward with nominees for the federal bench until the home state senators sign off.

“The blue slip is just a piece of paper and could be eliminated today, but that would not change the importance of home state senators’ support for confirming judicial nominees to the states they represent. As chairman of the Judiciary Committee, I have worked tirelessly to get judicial nominees confirmed. I cannot recall a single judicial nominee being confirmed over the objection of his or her home state senators,” Leahy wrote. ”The blue slip process reflects this reality, and those who care about the courts and who want qualified judges confirmed should not overlook this fact.”

Full story

April 2, 2014

Unemployment Benefits Extension: 4 Republicans Switch Votes on Filibuster

unemployment003 011614 445x296 Unemployment Benefits Extension: 4 Republicans Switch Votes on Filibuster

(Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Four Republicans voted to bring an unemployment benefits extension to the floor last week but then voted to filibuster the bipartisan deal on Wednesday.

Dan Coats of Indiana, Bob Corker of Tennessee, Ron Johnson of Wisconsin and Patrick J. Toomey of Pennsylvania all voted Wednesday to block the bipartisan agreement led by Sens. Jack Reed, D-R.I., and Dean Heller, R-Nev.

Joining Democrats to pass the bill were Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire, Susan Collins of Maine, Dean Heller of Nevada, Mark S. Kirk of Illinois, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Rob Portman of Ohio. They helped put the measure over the top, narrowly topping the 60-vote threshold, 61-38.

Final passage could be as early as Thursday.

We’ve posted the Senate clerk’s tally sheet showing how all the senators voted:

Full story

Unemployment Extension Bill Advances Narrowly in Senate

reid 020 040114 445x320 Unemployment Extension Bill Advances Narrowly in Senate

(Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

Updated 2 p.m. | The Senate’s deal to revive an extension of unemployment benefits passed a key procedural test — barely — Wednesday morning.

Senators voted to limit debate 61-38 — and thus get beyond any filibuster threats — on the five-month deal hashed out by a coalition led by Sens. Jack Reed, D-R.I., and Dean Heller, R -Nev.

Six Republicans joined with all of the Democrats — Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire, Susan Collins of Maine, Dean Heller of Nevada, Mark S. Kirk of Illinois, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Rob Portman of Ohio. Portman and Kirk had voted to filibuster a deal in February. Four Republicans who had voted to bring the bill to the floor last week switched and voted to filibuster the deal Wednesday: Dan Coats of Indiana, Bob Corker of Tennessee, Ron Johnson of Wisconsin and Patrick J. Toomey of Pennsylvania.

The procedural vote required the agreement of 60 senators.

Full story

March 29, 2014

Unemployment Extension: How Did Your Senator Vote?

Updated 8:18 p.m. | The Senate next week will consider giving final approval to an unemployment benefits extension, thanks to a procedural vote Thursday.

Given the wide national interest in this story,  we’re posting the full tally sheet and a breakdown of the bipartisan 65-34 vote to end a filibuster against bringing the legislation up for debate.

The vote came 89 days after benefits expired late last year. Supporters of the bill said that as of today, 2.24 million Americans have been cut off.

There are more hurdles to clear before the Senate can pass the bill, not to mention a wide disparity with House Republicans leadership that leaves it an open question whether the legislation would ever reach President Barack Obama’s desk.

Full story

March 26, 2014

Unemployment Benefits Headed for Senate Vote (Updated)

reid 227 032614 445x296 Unemployment Benefits Headed for Senate Vote (Updated)

(Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

Updated: 1:45 p.m. | The Senate is moving ahead Thursday with much-anticipated votes on an extension of unemployment insurance benefits that lapsed at the end of last year.

With backing from at least five Republicans, the bill should get the 60 votes needed to end a filibuster on bringing the bill up for debate.  It’ll still face the likelihood of another filibuster before final passage, expected next week. Full story

March 13, 2014

McCain Rails GOP on Ukraine Bill: ‘Don’t Call Yourself Reagan Republicans’ (Video)

Sen. John McCain hammered Republicans on the Senate floor Thursday for refusing to pass by unanimous consent a Senate Foreign Relation Committee bill which would provide economic aid while imposing sanctions on Russia.

“What has happened? Where are our priorities? You can call yourself Republicans, that’s fine, because that’s your voter registration. Don’t call yourself Reagan Republicans,” the Arizona Republican said.

Full story

GOP Could Force Vote to Negate Obamacare Carve-Out for Unions

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Thune signed on to a letter criticizing what the GOP is calling an Obamacare “carve-out” for labor unions. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Senate Republicans have at least one arrow in their quiver to force an uncomfortable Obamacare vote for Democrats seeking re-election in 2014.

That’s one takeaway from a new letter signed by 25 GOP senators led by John Thune of South Dakota, Orrin G. Hatch of Utah and Lamar Alexander of Tennessee. The letter sent to Office of Management and Budget Director Sylvia Burwell criticized an exemption from a re-insurance fee for self-insured health plans, calling the maneuver a carve-out for labor unions that run such plans.

“We demand that the rule be immediately rescinded or we will consider using options such as the Congressional Review Act … to stop the rule from going into effect. The CRA is an important backstop against executive branch excess and overreach,” the senators wrote. “It is regulations such as this one that demonstrate why a Republican-led Congress enacted this law in 1996.”

Full story

March 5, 2014

Democrats Defect, Sink Obama’s Civil Rights Pick (Updated) (Video)

Updated: 2:17 p.m. | Seven Senate Democrats joined Republicans to block President Barack Obama’s pick of Debo P. Adegbile to lead the Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division amid a controversy over his legal defense of convicted cop killer Mumia Abu-Jamal.

Adegbile’s nomination needed a simple majority to cut off debate but the chamber voted 47-52 against him, with Obama ripping the vote as a “travesty.”

Democrats Bob Casey of Pennsylvania, Chris Coons of Delaware, Joe Donnelly of Indiana, Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota, Joe Manchin III of West Virginia, Mark Pryor of Arkansas and John Walsh of Montana all voted no. Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., also voted no in order to preserve his right to reconsider the vote. If Adegbile had mustered just two more votes plus Reid, Vice President Joseph Biden was on hand to cast a possible tie-breaking vote.

It’s the first presidential pick to be blocked since Democrats changed the Senate’s rules via the “nuclear option” to block filibusters of nominees.

President Barack Obama called the vote “a travesty based on wildly unfair character attacks against a good and qualified public servant.”

Obama said Adegbile had impeccable credentials and “unwavering dedication to protecting every American’s civil and Constitutional rights under the law.”

“Mr. Adegbile’s personal story – rising from adversity to become someone who President Bush’s Solicitor General referred to as one of the nation’s most capable litigators – is a story that proves what America has been and can be for people who work hard and play by the rules.  As a lawyer, Mr. Adgebile has played by the rules.  And now, Washington politics have used the rules against him.”

Powerful law enforcement groups and Republicans opposed the nomination, with the Abu-Jamal case at the heart of the controversy.

Obama mentioned the issue but not by name.

“The fact that his nomination was defeated solely based on his legal representation of a defendant runs contrary to a fundamental principle of our system of justice – and those who voted against his nomination denied the American people an outstanding public servant,” Obama said.

The nomination also has exposed the political risk for Democrats of deploying the nuclear option.

Sarah Chacko contributed to this report.

 

Joe Biden Could Be Tiebreaker for Debo Adegbile Vote

Biden 01 041713 445x315 Joe Biden Could Be Tiebreaker for Debo Adegbile Vote

(Chris Maddaloni/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. has made an appearance at the Capitol for the Senate’s procedural vote on Debo P. Adegbile to head the Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division.

The vote is expected to be extremely close and could require Biden to vote.

When asked by CQ Roll Call when Biden arrived Wednesday morning if he was there to break a tie, the vice president said, “If I have to.”

 

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