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April 17, 2014

Posts in "Republicans"

April 9, 2014

Fischer Takes GOP Lead in Pay Equity Debate

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Fischer co-authored the GOP’s alternative pay equity bill. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

Sen. Deb Fischer, R-Neb., likes to tell a story about when she was first elected to the state legislature and a reporter asked if she would focus on women’s issues.

“And I said, ‘Tell me what a women’s issue is,’” Fischer said.

After serving in Nebraska’s unicameral Legislature for eight years, she takes the same approach in the Senate, to which she was elected in 2012.

In a hallway interview Wednesday, she argued that women’s issues are no different from anyone else’s and include creating a strong economy, jobs, building infrastructure and ensuring national security.

“Women want the same thing that men want, so I don’t like being slotted in what’s perceived as a women’s issue because I think women’s issues are the same important issues that everybody in this country is trying to address,” she said.

Her comments come after she helped lead Republican opposition to the Democratic pay equity bill sponsored by Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski, D-Md. 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

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 28, 2014

Jeremiah Denton, Former Alabama Senator and Vietnam P.O.W., dies at 89

Jeremiah Denton, former Alabama Senator and a Vietnam War hero, died of heart problems Friday morning at the age of 89.

According to the Associated Press, family members surrounded Denton when he passed away at 8 a.m. at a Hospice facility in Virginia Beach, Va.

The Mobile, Ala., native was elected to the Senate in 1980 — the first Republican to represent Alabama since Reconstruction.  During his one term in the Senate, Denton established himself as a staunch social conservative.  Denton narrowly lost his 1986 reelection bid to then-Democrat Richard C. Shelby. Full story

March 24, 2014

Unemployment Extension Fight Pits Portman Against Boehner

luncheons007 031213 445x296 Unemployment Extension Fight Pits Portman Against Boehner

(Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

The fight for a bipartisan unemployment benefits extension bill is pitting two powerful, prominent Ohio Republicans — Speaker John A. Boehner and Sen. Rob Portman — against each other, but the two men haven’t yet spoken about it.

“I haven’t talked to him,” Portman told CQ Roll Call Monday evening. “I did have my folks reach out to the Ohio state agency that handles this issue, and we want to make sure that … it can be done and be done smoothly, and so we’re working to be able to address any concerns that he has, but I haven’t talked to him directly about it.” Full story

Ukraine Aid Advances in Senate but Cruz, Barrasso Push for Votes on Amendments

A bill to provide aid to Ukraine cleared a procedural vote Monday evening, as Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, signaled he would not object to expediting the bill if he gets a vote on an amendment striking the International Monetary Fund provision.

But Senate Democrats may not have an incentive to allow any amendments votes on the bill given that they likely have the 60 votes needed to clear any procedural hurdles. If both sides stand their ground, that would mean the Senate would likely next vote around midnight Tuesday.

“Its silly that we are running the [cloture] clock when we got 78 votes” to advance the bill, said a senior Senate Democratic aide. 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

Bipartisan Unemployment Extension Deal Reached

senate gop001 011414 445x301 Bipartisan Unemployment Extension Deal Reached

(Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Five Senate Democrats and five Republicans unveiled a deal on extending expired unemployment insurance benefits for five months, which should be enough to overcome a GOP filibuster and get the package out of the Senate later this month.

The proposal is paid for using a combination of offsets that includes extending “pension smoothing” provisions from the 2012 highway bill and extending customs user fees through 2024, according to a release.

The bill also includes an additional offset allowing single-employer pension plans to prepay their flat rate premiums to the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation.

The group led by Jack Reed, D-R.I., and Dean Heller, R-Nev., also includes Republicans Susan Collins of Maine, Rob Portman of Ohio, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Mark S. Kirk of Illinois. Portman and Kirk had voted to filibuster an unemployment extension in February, with Democrats coming up one vote short.

The other Democrats involved are Jeff Merkley of Oregon, Cory Booker of New Jersey, Sherrod Brown of Ohio and Richard J. Durbin of Illinois. The plan will allow retroactive payments going back to Dec. 28, when Congress allowed emergency unemployment benefits to expire. And it will prohibit people making more than $1 million from obtaining benefits, among other provisions.

Collins said she was pleased that the agreement was reached and expects Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., to tee it up for votes after next week’s recess.

“I’m pleased we have reached an agreement that will attract a sufficient number of Republican votes to provide a five month extension, retroactively that is fully paid for,” she said.

Reid had earlier expressed optimism for an unemployment deal and hoped the Senate would be able to pass it once they return.

Full story

Graham to Kerry: ‘Let Me Know What I Can Do’ to Help With Boehner (Video)

Following remarks Wednesday from Speaker John A. Boehner saying IMF aid to Ukraine is unnecessary, Sen. Lindsey Graham personally offered assistance to Secretary of State John Kerry as the House and Senate continue to debate the appropriate response to the Ukrainian crisis.

“Hey, John, good job,” the South Carolina Republican was heard saying before Kerry turned off the desk mic. “Let me know what I can do to help you with Boehner.”

Graham’s remarks were caught following a Senate Appropriations Subcommittee hearing on the State Department’s fiscal 2015 budget. Meanwhile, Kerry travels to London on Friday to meet with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov.

Correction 11:40 p.m.

An earlier version of this report misstated where Kerry is traveling on Friday.

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 4, 2014

Democrats Take Aim at Ryan Budget Senate GOP Doesn’t Want

With few remaining options for enacting major public policy before the November election, Democrats instead are looking to set a political trap for Republicans on income inequality issues and hoping the GOP takes the bait.

According to several sources, some Republicans, especially on the Senate side, are reluctant to have House Budget Committee Chairman Paul D. Ryan, R-Wis., push forward with his annual budget framework, which he telegraphed this week would focus on the federal government’s antipoverty programs. Senate Republicans, several of whom are caught between primary challengers on the right and Democratic upstarts on the left, would rather talk about something else, as opposed to being forced to contend with issues better suited to the Democratic party line.

“You are correct they have a vote count problem and that has led to concern on our side. We have better issues on which we can message,” said a Senate Republican aide, of the cross-chamber view of Ryan’s potential budget unveiling.

Ryan and Senate Budget Committee Chairwoman Patty Murray, D-Wash., already have set topline numbers for this fiscal year and next, and Murray has said she will not produce a budget this year. With those spending levels, it could be hard for House Republicans to actually pass the budget, given the 62 GOP defectors on the 2013 Murray-Ryan agreement.

“We don’t have any announcements to make at this time. It is Chairman Ryan’s intent to again put forward a balanced budget,” a Ryan spokesman said in an e-mail.

But perhaps more significant in the GOP’s calculations, assuming there is a regard for Senate Republicans’ political needs from their House counterparts, is that since 2010, Senate Democrats have used Ryan’s budgets as a political weapon against Republicans, and are sure to do so again.

The potential political “trap” goes like this: Democrats, through a series of messaging votes and initiatives from the White House, make “income inequality” issues — extending expired unemployment benefits, raising the minimum wage — the centerpiece of their 2014 midterm narrative.

Republicans, in turn, respond to these messaging efforts by trying to engage on the issue. Republican senators such as Tim Scott of South Carolina and Marco Rubio of Florida already have given speeches to these ends. And on Monday, Ryan unveiled a 204-page report assessing the failures of federal antipoverty programs.

Once Ryan releases his budget blueprint — if he does — Democrats plan to attack him and House Republicans, as they have for years, for slashing safety net programs to balance the budget. For their part, Democrats are happy Republicans are playing on their turf.

“House Republicans are realizing that the major issue that’s affecting the American people is the decline of incomes for the middle class and people below the middle class. … We may not agree with their solutions, but I think it’s a good step that they’re focusing on these things now rather than some other stuff,” Sen. Charles E. Schumer said Tuesday.

When reminded of previous Democratic messaging efforts, largely led by the New York Democrat himself, Schumer added the following caveat: “Well, I haven’t seen the whole Ryan budget this year, but I imagine most of it is going to be similar to last time — where he’s trying to dramatically cut things that will help the middle class grow, like education, infrastructure, scientific research. It’s not going to work.”

A Senate Democratic aide conceded the political nature of budgets in a way that underscored this dynamic: “A lot of these political debates aren’t necessarily won or lost on the answers to questions, but what you can frame as the important question, and on that front, we feel like we’ve already won.”

That has some Republicans asking why give Democrats an easy messaging issue when control of the Senate is in play. With President Barack Obama’s approval ratings hovering around 40 percent, and almost a complete disregard of his budget release Tuesday, these Republicans believe that other messages would be clearer and more effective.

But other Republicans dismiss the idea that attacking Ryan’s budget brings much political advantage to otherwise struggling Democrats.

“I don’t think the Democratic talking points on our budget [are as] effective as they think they are,” said one GOP aide. “I think they’d love to find an issue that would become a national issue to combat the general fatigue with the Obama presidency.”

And even some Democrats admit that what’s said on the ground by candidates plays a more significant role in voters’ decisions than national narratives.

“At the risk of going off-script, I don’t think the problem is Paul Ryan, I think it’s the ideas that all these candidates support and that’s what will have big consequences in these Senate races,” said Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee Deputy Executive Director Matt Canter, citing recent stories of GOP candidates opposing the principle of a minimum wage. But Canter suggested that national policy decisions “build a narrative.”

Would McConnell Have a Governing Majority?

mcconnell020414 445x283 Would McConnell Have a Governing Majority?

(Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

Sen. Mitch McConnell has long coveted the chance to be Senate majority leader, and while he could get the job come 2015, it may be more than he bargained for.

The Kentucky Republican and current minority leader could end up with the narrowest of majorities, with tea party firebrands such as Ted Cruz of Texas holding the power to sink, for example, a Republican budget blueprint if they aren’t satisfied.

It would be similar to the scenario faced by Speaker John A. Boehner, R-Ohio, whose fractious conference has repeatedly revolted against and thwarted House leadership’s agenda.

On most issues in the Senate, of course, 60 votes are still needed and that means working with Democrats. McConnell has said repeatedly that he would run a more open Senate and would seek to restore some semblance of regular order. If he only has 51 Republicans, he’ll have to corral his conference and nine or 10 Democratic votes each week to advance legislation. And that need for bipartisanship is sure to put stresses on his party’s internal dynamics.

Conference Vice Chairman Roy Blunt, who has served in GOP leadership on both sides of the Rotunda, said the party would face a test of whether it’s ready to govern.

“There are some things like the budget that 51 Republicans in the Senate would have to vote for,” the Missouri Republican said. “That [and] how we use our committees would be two of the big tests of whether we are ready to be a governing party or not, and I think it’s something we ought to be thinking about just in case the majority does happen.”

Republicans could try to nullify the health care law through budget reconciliation rather than by threatening another government shutdown, for example. But drafting a budget that gets 51 votes would be the toughest challenge — especially if McConnell doesn’t have a vote to spare.

Blunt is one of many Republicans contrasting how McConnell would run the Senate with the current Democratic rule under Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada.

“No. 1, I hope we’ve learned the lessons of what happens when you don’t do the business the right way,” he said. “Second, the times that Republicans did lead the House and Senate, there was a budget and the appropriations bills generally came to the floor one at a time, and all came to the floor in some form to be debated and amended.”

That could help Republicans attract Democratic votes to advance legislation, although it won’t necessarily close the sharp split over tactics between McConnell and Cruz and others in the GOP base.

Operating in the minority, Republicans fractured over the tactic championed by Cruz of tying the funding of the government to defunding Obamacare. McConnell, notably, cut the deal to reopen the government.

“The tactical choices you make can actually help your chances or hurt your chances. Shutting down the government to defund Obamacare was a tactical mistake. We’ve overcome that,” said Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C.

Cruz later feuded with McConnell, as the Texas Republican forced his fellow GOP senators to walk the plank on the debt limit.

Cruz senior communications adviser and speechwriter Amanda Carpenter said in a recent interview with CQ Roll Call that she didn’t envision her boss changing course.

“He’s said before, ‘I don’t trust Republicans, I don’t trust Democrats.’ He’s still going try to do the things he set out to do. The goal of being in the Senate isn’t just to be the guy with the most people on your team. It’s to fix it,” Carpenter said.

Other senior Republicans acknowledged the balancing act McConnell would face. The challenge would be to balance the desires of the conservative base with trying to operate a functional chamber.

“We won’t have 60,” noted Sen. John McCain of Arizona, who is in line to be Armed Services chairman in a GOP-led Senate. ”One of the things I know for a fact because I’ve got the commitment for Sen. McConnell is that we will take up bills in the regular order, and we will do as we did for years.”

The party also has to focus on what’s achievable, suggested Republican Conference Chairman John Thune of South Dakota.

“You can’t set unrealistic expectations,” Thune said, adding that it’s something the party has been guilty of previously. “You have to define your reality, and the reality will be, even if we win the majority, is that we will be working with a Democratic president for the next couple of years who has a veto pen.”

In a recent interview with The New York Times, McConnell opened the door to reversing November’s “nuclear” rules change, though that would be a postelection debate.

“The Senate can be returned to the place of great debates, contentious debates, but where you can still get outcomes on things where you have at least 60 senators,” McConnell said.

“I definitely think that there is support for what I would consider to be regular order, which is moving to approps bills,” said Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska. “When we are to assume that [majority], we are going to have some different faces, different folks. So, you take every session as it comes.”

Thune conceded that keeping the conference unified would be a challenge and there could be more disputes like the one over defunding Obamacare. But he said that having the majority is a “very different scenario.”

“In the minority you are reacting all the time, and in most cases you are trying to put up a defense against what the other side is trying to do. But when you are calling the plays and setting the agenda, I think there is more of a, I hope, more of a buy-in to what the goals are. If we have gotten the buy-in and gotten everybody invested, taking ownership of what we want to achieve, then I think it gets easier to get people together, but we will see.”

February 28, 2014

Mumia Abu-Jamal Case Reverberates in Senate Nomination Fight

143344021 protestor stands next to an image of mumia gettyimages 445x297 Mumia Abu Jamal Case Reverberates in Senate Nomination Fight

A protestor stands next to an image of Abu-Jamal in 2012. (AFP/Getty Images)

President Barack Obama’s nomination of Debo P. Adegbile to head the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division has unleashed a decades-old racial feud centered on the case of Mumia Abu-Jamal that threatens to cross partisan lines and give credence to Senate Republican worries that more controversial nominees will be confirmed since Democrats eased the process last year.

The Senate is scheduled to vote on cloture on the Adegbile nomination Monday evening. Adegbile, senior counsel for Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick J. Leahy, D-Vt., previously worked for the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, which helped commute the death sentence of Abu-Jamal, a black nationalist who was convicted and sentenced to death in 1982 for the murder of white Philadelphia Police Officer Daniel Faulkner.

Senate Democrats control 55 votes in the Senate and only need 51 to clear the hurdle. But it is likely to be close, as one of their own, Sen. Bob Casey of Pennsylvania announced Friday he would oppose the nomination, and several Democrats up for re-election in swing or conservative states might think twice about wading into the hornets’ nest that surrounds Abu-Jamal.

The case goes back to a dark period in Philadelphia history, when the MOVE group of black separatists clashed frequently with the Philadelphia political and law enforcement community.   Full story

February 27, 2014

Cruz Won’t Say Whether He’ll Vote for Cornyn in Tuesday’s Primary

cornyn 122 062513 445x270 Cruz Wont Say Whether Hell Vote for Cornyn in Tuesdays Primary

Does Cornyn have Cruz’s vote? Texas’ junior senator won’t say. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Sen. Ted Cruz declined to say whether he would vote for his fellow Texan, Senate Minority Whip John Cornyn, in next week’s Republican primary, despite Cruz’s avowed affection for the state’s senior senator.

“I like John Cornyn,” Cruz said Thursday in a Politico Playbook breakfast interview. “He and I have worked together very closely. We’ve agreed on the vast majority of things, there are some areas on which we disagree.”

Cruz said his decision not to disclose his choice in Tuesday’s GOP Senate primary — in which Rep. Steve Stockman is one of several challengers to Cornyn — stems from him not wanting to meddle in the primaries of sitting Republicans. But he said his decision is not iron clad and left open the possibility that he may still get involved in primaries this year.

“What I have said is that I am likely going to stay out of incumbent Republican primaries,” Cruz said. “I haven’t put that in concrete.”

Asked why he hedged, Cruz said, “Because things can change in politics.” Full story

Corker Compares Reid’s Reign to Putin’s

 Corker Compares Reids Reign to Putins

(Courtesy Michael Bonfigli/Christian Science Monitor)

Sen. Bob Corker lit into Majority Leader Harry Reid Thursday morning, at one point comparing the Nevada Democrat’s leadership of the Senate to the rule of Russian President Vladimir Putin.

The Tennessee Republican, who is the ranking member of the Foreign Relations Committee, said he supports finding a way forward on filling noncontroversial ambassadorial nominations, but he said he understands why Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky and other Republicans would take advantage of Senate rules in the aftermath of the “nuclear” option.

Full story

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