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November 19, 2014
Time is running out for Michael P. Boggs, whose nomination by President Barack Obama to the district court bench in Georgia roiled Democrats and raised new questions about the longstanding Senate practice of giving senators a veto over court picks in their home states.
Georgia Republican Sens. Saxby Chambliss and Johnny Isakson said Tuesday they remain hopeful that the controversial judicial nomineewill get confirmed before the end of the congressional session.
“We’ve still got days left in the session,” Chambliss said.
“We’ll just have to see,” Isakson said. Full story
November 18, 2014
Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., came out against a surveillance bill sponsored by Sen. Patrick J. Leahy, D-Vt., citing concerns that it could hurt the nation’s ability to combat terrorists like Islamic State.
“Many of these fighters are familiar with America’s intelligence capabilities and many are savvy with communications: these are terrorists who know how to use encryption and they know how to change devices frequently,” McConnell said on the Senate floor. “That’s part of the reason why I’m so strongly opposed to the legislation.”
McConnell is set to become majority leader in the next Congress and his comments will likely make it more difficult for the bill to advance. The Senate is expected to vote on cloture on whether to take up the bill Tuesday evening and 60 votes are needed to move ahead.
McConnell added that he believes the bill would curtail the intelligence community’s surveillance powers and that would “end one of our nation’s critical capabilities to gather significant intelligence on terrorist threats.”
“This is the worst possible time to be tying our hands behind our backs,” McConnell said. Full story
November 5, 2014
Anticipation was in the air at a Republican election-watch party hosted by Magnum Entertainment in Union Station Tuesday night.
And at the moment when Fox News, playing on a large screen in the corner of the sizeable ballroom, called Iowa for Republican Joni Ernst, the place erupted in a cathartic cheer drowning out the live band, which had been playing classic rock tunes all evening.
The drinks were flowing from the open bars and staffers were hugging, high-fiving as well as taking pictures in order to savor the moment.
Republicans last controlled the Senate eight years ago — with Republicans living under the thumb of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., ever since.
“It’s been too long,” one staffer was heard exclaiming. Full story
October 10, 2014
Sen. John Walsh, D-Mont., will have to take one college degree off his wall.
Walsh confirmed in a statement Friday that the U.S. Army War College revoked his master’s degree after reports by The New York Times revealed Walsh plagiarized a final paper.
“Though I disagree with the findings made by the War College, I accept its decision with great humility and respect for the U.S. Military,” Walsh said in the statement. “I apologize to all Montanans for the plagiarism in my 2007 paper, and I am prepared to live with its consequences. I may not be a scholar but I am proud to have been a soldier who has served Montana and this great nation for 33 years in uniform.”
Before the plagiarism reports broke, discrepancies in Walsh’s educational record raised eyebrows.
After the scandal unfolded, Walsh dropped his bid for Senate. The Montana Democrat was appointed to the chamber in 2014 to fill a vacancy left by Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont., who resigned to become ambassador to China.
September 26, 2014
In a preview of what Republicans in Iowa and New Hampshire can expect to see a lot of over the next year, Sens. Ted Cruz and Rand Paul reached out to conservatives at the annual Values Voter Summit in Washington, D.C. on Friday.
While neither Cruz nor Paul have officially announced a bid for the Republican nomination, both speeches laid out the fundamentals for a presidential run.
For Paul, it was allaying the concerns of many in the religious right that the Kentucky Republican is too libertarian for their Christian beliefs.
“Where there is liberty, there is always plenty of space for God,” Paul said, drawing on Corinthians 3:17, which states, “Where the spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty.”
Paul said America was in a “full-blown crisis — a spiritual crisis,” and he said the nation’s moral compass was “wavering.”
“Those of us who love freedom must realize that freedom is not a license to do as you please,” he said. “Freedom can only be realized when citizens know self-restraint, or, put another way, virtue.” Full story
September 17, 2014
Nevada’s senators appeared together Wednesday afternoon to promote hand-washing and proper hygiene.
Democratic Majority Leader Harry Reid and GOP Sen. Dean Heller teamed up at an event for Clean the World, a group that recycles unused soap from hotel rooms and provides it to those in need both around the world and in the United States.
Of course, guests at Nevada’s resorts and casinos use no shortage of those miniature bottles of shampoo and bars of soap. Reid said there are 125,000 hotel rooms in Las Vegas. Backers of the event in the Capitol’s Lyndon B. Johnson room included Las Vegas Sands Corp., founded by well-known GOP donor Sheldon Adelson.
September 15, 2014
Updated 6:35 p.m. | It helps to be the majority leader when you’re trying to kill the Yucca Mountain nuclear repository.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid is using floor time this week to confirm nominees to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission — a move that will ensure a Democratic majority.
Two Republicans now outnumber the only Democrat on the commission, NRC Chairwoman Allison M. Macfarlane, who has indicated opposition to the Yucca Mountain project before being confirmed by the Senate two years ago deeming the site geologically unsound and calling for an alternative.
The two nominees, Jeffery M. Baran and Stephen G. Burns, would fill vacant spots on the commission. Reid has spent considerable political capital to effectively kill the project, and repeatedly used his influence to ensure the NRC’s opposition to it. Full story
September 4, 2014
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., has joined a bipartisan group of 50 senators seeking a moratorium on closing mail-processing facilities by the U.S. Postal Service.
“With Reid’s signature, a bipartisan majority of all senators now have signed the letter,” said Sen. Bernard Sanders, I-Vt., who helped organize the effort, in a release touting Reid’s move.
The moratorium would save postal jobs while giving Congress time to come up with a way to reform the postal service, which reported it lost $2 billion in the second quarter, and $740 million more than the same time last year.
Previous losses, and a lack of congressional action, have led the postal service to consolidate 141 mail-processing facilities since 2012 and more closures are expected. Sanders said a moratorium would save as many as 15,000 jobs.
Along with Sanders, Democratic Sens. Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin and Jon Tester of Montana put the effort together and released a letter in August. Most of the 50 signatories to the letter were Democrats, but six were Republicans: Sens. Roy Blunt of Missouri, John Hoeven of North Dakota, John Thune of South Dakota, Susan Collins of Maine, James M. Inhofe of Oklahoma and Orrin G. Hatch of Utah.
After the letter was released, Sen. Thomas R. Carper, D-Del., who is chairman of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee and has written a postal service overhaul bill, issued a release warning that in the absence of congressional reform, a moratorium would further drain the USPS’s resources without giving it any additional authority to cut costs or increase revenue, and increasing the risk of a congressional bailout.
“If my colleagues want to address these concerns for the long-haul, I urge them to join me this September as we continue our efforts to fix the serious, but solvable, financial challenges facing the Postal Service,” Carper said. “Our bill isn’t perfect but it is an important step in the right direction. I hope my colleagues will join our efforts to enhance this plan in order to save the Postal Service before it’s too late.”
August 21, 2014
The Defense Department violated the law when it didn’t tell Congress before transferring five Taliban detainees from Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, to Qatar in return for the Taliban’s release of captured Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, the Government Accountability Office said in a legal decision made public Thursday.
Pentagon officials “did not notify the relevant congressional committees at least 30 days in advance of the transfer,” as required by law, GAO General Counsel Susan A. Poling said in a letter to nine Republican senators who had sought the analysis.
What’s more, Poling said, “because DOD used appropriated funds to carry out the transfer when no money was available for that purpose, DOD violated the Antideficiency Act,” which “prohibits federal agencies from incurring obligations exceeding an amount available in an appropriation.”
The GAO ruling provides legal backing for the position that the administration flouted the notification requirement — a view held by most Republicans and more than a few Democrats. The GAO does not address other issues that many lawmakers have raised about the merits of the exchange.
The requirement for a 30-day notice of transfers is part of the fiscal 2014 defense authorization law ( PL 113-66 ). Moreover, the fiscal 2014 Defense appropriations act ( PL 113-76 ) prohibits spending on any transfers that do not comply with the authorization law’s requirements.
Defense Department lawyers told the GAO that they believe the transfers were lawful regardless of the notification requirement, but Poling said the GAO did not accept that argument.
Pentagon officials also told the GAO that the notification requirement is unconstitutional. They argued that it “would have interfered with the Executive’s performance of two related functions that the Constitution assigns to the President: protecting the lives of Americans abroad and protecting U.S. service members.”
The GAO did not assess the validity of that claim.
The GAO letter was addressed to Republicans Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, Richard C. Shelby of Alabama, Thad Cochran of Mississippi, Dan Coats of Indiana, Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, Lamar Alexander of Tennessee, Susan Collins of Maine, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Roy Blunt of Missouri.
August 18, 2014
Former Sen. Jim Jeffords of Vermont, a longtime Republican who flipped control of the Senate to the Democrats after switching parties in 2001, has died.
Jeffords, who had been in declining health, was 80. The Burlington Free Press first reported his death.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said he was sad to hear of Jeffords’ passing and called him a man of conscience.
“Throughout Jim’s time in the Senate he left an important mark on the history of the institution,” Reid said. “He was a strong supporter of helping people with disabilities and always fought for the underdog. Jim was a model of a great legislator who avoided partisan politics and fought for what was best for the people of Vermont. In 2001 he changed the makeup of the Senate by switching from a Republican to an Independent and caucusing with the Democrats. History will remember Senator Jeffords as a courageous man who listened to his conscience, and I will always respect him for doing so.”
Sen. Patrick J. Leahy, D-Vt., also lauded Jeffords’ career.
“He was a partner in our work for Vermont, and he was a friend,” Leahy said in release. “He was a Vermonter through and through, drawn to political life to make a difference for our state and nation. Part of his legacy will also stand as an enduring chapter of the Senate’s history.”
Sen. Bernard Sanders, I-Vt., who won the election to replace Jefford after he retired in 2006, praised his demeanor and his dedication to the state.
“Jane and I join all Vermonters in sending condolences to the family of Jim Jeffords,” Sanders said in a statement. “Jim was one of the most popular elected officials in the modern history of the state — serving at the local, state and federal levels. Vermonters admired him because of his low-key and down-to-earth qualities, and because of his obvious and strong love of the state and the Vermont way of life. He was an effective champion of education, disability rights, the environment and the arts — and millions of Americans have benefited from his efforts.”
Sanders acknowledged Jeffords’ strength when he changed the Senate in 2001 and became an independent. “He displayed enormous courage by leaving a party that, he often said, had left him because of its dramatic move to the right,” Sanders said. “Jim was a friend and he will be sorely missed.”
Rep. Peter Welch, D-Vt., said that Jeffords and his wife Liz Daley, who died in 2007 of ovarian cancer, were mentors during his early days as the state’s at-large House member.
“While Jim would certainly wave away the notion, he was indeed a legend in Vermont and the nation,” Welch said in a release. “With characteristic decency, humility and civility, and a dogged persistence, he made his mark in Congress.”
“Millions of children with disabilities are better off today because he lead the charge for their equal access to education,” Welch said. “Americans are breathing cleaner air and drinking cleaner water because of his fierce advocacy for the environment and clean energy. And budding artists across the nation receive the boost of his encouragement every year thanks to his legacy as the founder of the annual Congressional Arts Competition.”
“And, in 2001, the world saw what his fellow Vermonters already knew: Jim Jeffords, above all, had the courage of his convictions,” Welch said.
Jeffords endorsed Welch in his 2006 campaign over GOP candidate Martha Rainville.
Education was a legislative passion for Jeffords and Republican leaders decision not to include a school funding provision in a $1.6 trillion tax cut bill led him down the path to renouncing his party affiliation.
At the time of his decision to become an independent who would caucus with Democrats, the Senate was split 50-50 with Vice President Dick Cheney the deciding vote giving Republicans control of the chamber.
Following Jeffords’ switch, the Democrats controlled the chamber, 51-49. Until 2001 he identified as a Republican his entire political career, including 14 years in the House of Representatives and all but the last six years of the 18 years he spent in the Senate.
“It was a unique time in history,” Jeffords once recalled. “It was the first time you had a situation of a 50-50 Senate. That opened up an opportunity for one individual, myself or any other Republicans that wanted to, within the rules, to change the whole thing. And then I got to thinking. … I said, ‘If you don’t do it, you’re going to be to blame for everything that happens from now on — Supreme Court appointments — all of that. Because you had the power to make that change, to stop the abuse of power.’ So that’s when I decided I had to do it.”
August 14, 2014
Updated: 5:05 p.m. | A bipartisan group of 50 senators urged appropriators Thursday to include a provision in year-end, catchall spending legislation that would prevent the U.S. Post Office from closing more mail-processing facilities in the next fiscal year.
“This one-year moratorium will give Congress the time it needs to enact the comprehensive postal reforms that are necessary for the Postal Service to function effectively into the future,” the group said in a letter to Appropriations Committee Chairman Barbara A. Mikulski, D-Md., and ranking member Sen. Richard C. Shelby, R-Ala.
The letter — circulated by Sen. Bernard Sanders, I-Vt., Sen. Tammy Baldwin, D-Wis., and Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont. — was also sent to Sen. Tom Udall, D-N.M., chairman of the Financial Services Appropriations Subcommittee, which has jurisdiction over the post office, and the panel’s ranking member Sen. Mike Johanns, R-Neb.
While Congress doesn’t provide funding for the post service, it does oversee the agency. Full story
August 1, 2014
Sen. Kay Hagan was undergoing emergency eye surgery this morning in North Carolina.
The North Carolina Democrat, who is seeking re-election in a competitive race this year that Republicans have targeted as a pickup opportunity, was one of several senators to miss votes during the Senate’s marathon sequence late Thursday.
Hagan spokeswoman Amber Moon said in a statement that the senator could not further delay departing for the medical treatment.
“Senator Hagan learned last week that she needs to undergo an emergency procedure to correct an eye condition that has worsened over time. In order to be present for work this week in Washington D.C., she delayed the procedure for as long as possible. However, she was not able to put it off any longer and was forced to leave last night to be in North Carolina for the procedure first thing this morning,” Moon said. “The Senator will have a reduced schedule for a few days, but we expect that by the middle of next week she’ll be fully recovered and back to full speed.”
The Senate held a series of consequential votes on immigration, veterans’ health and transportation before the chamber emptied for August recess. The next roll call vote is expected on September 8.
July 31, 2014
Updated 9:25 a.m. | The Senate cleared a $10.8 billion House bill patching the Highway Trust Fund to the president’s desk Thursday in its last legislative vote before heading out of town for the August recess.
The Senate will still be in session Friday, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said, but the Nevada Democrat said after Thursday the next roll call vote would not occur until September.
With the highway bill passing 81-13 and a VA bill also cleared for the president’s desk, but a border supplemental blocked by the GOP, Congress cleared two of the three major legislative items leaders had hoped to accomplish this week. Full story
July 17, 2014
If it’s determined that Ukrainian separatists shot down the Malaysia Airlines plane that crashed in Eastern Ukraine Thursday, Russian President Vladimir Putin should face consequences, Sen. John McCain said.
The Arizona Republican said it’s too early to know exactly what happened to the plane that reportedly crashed near the Russian border.
“It’s an outrageous and incredible act of terrorism that people [should] be held responsible and not only be people directly responsible, but indirectly,” McCain said when asked about reports the plane was shot down. “And if these are … separatists, which are also Russian, Vladimir Putin should be paying a heavy price. But I am not concluding yet that until we find out all the information.”
Sen. Saxby Chambliss, R-Ga., the ranking member of the Intelligence Committee, said he expected a briefing Thursday.
President Barack Obama announced Wednesday new sanctions targeting Russian businesses in retaliation for Putin’s actions on Ukraine.
July 16, 2014
Senators blocked legislation Wednesday that would have required Hobby Lobby and other private employers with religious interests to pay for birth control.
The Senate rejected, by a 56-43 vote, the first procedural motion to advance the bill. Sixty votes were needed to limit debate on the motion to proceed. Republican members Susan Collins of Maine, Mark S. Kirk of Illinois and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska voted with nearly all Democrats in favor of cloture.
Before the vote closed, Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., switched his vote for procedural reasons. Full story