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January 26, 2015

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January 26, 2015

Grassley to Ramp Up Oversight at Judiciary

Grassley in his office. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

Grassley in his office. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

When Loretta Lynch paid Sen. Charles E. Grassley a visit last month, the new Judiciary Committee chairman handed her a book — of all the unanswered letters he’s sent to the administration.

“I want to know if she is going to cooperate with our oversight,” the six-term Iowa Republican told CQ Roll Call in an interview in his office. “I am very interested in oversight … and we can’t carry it out if we can’t get the cooperation from them.”

Lynch, who was selected by President Barack Obama late last year to be attorney general, will have a chance to answer Grassley’s and the rest of the GOP’s questions on immigration and other issues all day Wednesday.

Known for his heartland candor, Grassley, unlike some other Republicans who have vowed to oppose Lynch’s nomination over Obama’s executive actions, hasn’t yet made up his mind how he will vote on her nomination to replace Eric H. Holder Jr.

“I want to get a feeling if she is going to be, hopefully, a lot less political, or not political at all, compared to Holder,” Grassley said.

Grassley’s push for strong oversight isn’t new — he handed Holder a book of letters too and he gained a reputation as a dogged investigator as the chairman of the Finance Committee the last time he held a gavel, more than eight years ago.

Aside from being a constitutional responsibility, Grassley’s philosophy has been that oversight can achieve results more quickly than legislation.

“I’m not talking just about hearings,” Grassley said. “What can we get by letter, what can we get by telephone conversations, what can we get by working through [the press]? … You use all those tools before you have a hearing.”

Grassley told Lynch he has seen myriad nominees — from both Democratic and Republican administrations — promise to cooperate and then ultimately disappoint him.

“It would really be better if, instead of saying, ‘yes,’ say, ‘maybe;’ then you’re being honest,” he said he told Lynch.

Grassley hopes the administration will be more responsive, including giving him the Office of Legal Counsel’s “legal opinions on the president’s executive edicts and things of that nature.”

On legislation, Grassley told CQ Roll Call about the possibility of moving bipartisan measures of interest to the committee last Congress.

He said moving on changing the sentencing system could be easier than the others.

“I’ve had some different views than some of my Republican colleagues have had; it’s going to be difficult to work things out, but I wouldn’t say they couldn’t be worked out,” Grassley said. “Compared to patent trolling, juvenile justice reauthorization, [the Freedom of Information Act], I think those things are a little harder, but not impossible.”

But he said he remains skeptical of a sentencing system overhaul. The committee cleared a bill last year sponsored by Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, and Senate Minority Whip Richard J. Durbin, D-Ill., which would restore judicial discretion by making reductions to mandatory minimums for some drug crimes.

“Mandatory minimums are about the only thing that makes sure there is some consistency from one judge to another,” Grassley said.

He’s also monitoring what’s going on in the states and the administration on marijuana.

“I see it divided into three different areas,” he said. “Commercial production of hemp, which is pretty much up to the states under the farm bill. Recreational marijuana: I want to make sure it’s not a gateway to higher drugs before I would vote for legalization. And medical marijuana: You ought to have the same standard as you have for other drug approval by [the Food and Drug Administration] from the standpoint of efficacy and safety.”

And he riffed on prosecutorial discretion.

“This is probably something that is going to come up with Lynch, whether I would ask it or not doesn’t matter,” he said. “But for an attorney general, not just on marijuana, but on anything, to signal to the whole world that you are going to prosecute some and not prosecute others. … I understand that you don’t have the resources to prosecute everybody, but you don’t send a signal to the rest of the world, ‘[It] doesn’t matter,’ or, ‘It matters in some instances and not others,’ because you’re going to encourage disrespect for the law.”

Grassley also isn’t done with the Operation Fast and Furious and IRS scandals.

Republicans have been pursuing answers on Fast and Furious for years; the refusal by Holder to turn over related documents resulted in a House vote to hold him in contempt in 2012.

Last October, Grassley, along with then-House Oversight and Government Reform Chairman Darrell Issa, R-Calif., wrote to the Department of Justice about a gun found at the scene of a shooting in Arizona connected to the botched gun sting operation.

The letter was the fourth time Grassley requested information on a Fast and Furious gun.

On the IRS, Grassley said he and his staff would work closely on the ongoing investigation with Finance Chairman Orrin G. Hatch, R-Utah.

Republicans have been frustrated at the pace of the Justice Department’s own investigation.

Meanwhile, Grassley has been gearing up for re-election next year.

“The days of cheap campaigns are over,” he said, though he conceded one advantage — the anticipated large field of 2016 presidential contenders who will be eager to lend their support to the popular senior statesman from Iowa, home of the first round of caucuses.

“When I have what you might call house parties or, or fundraising parties in homes in Iowa, I think I can call on a lot of presidential candidates that’ll help me get out a big crowd,” he said.

He also touts his personal ground game.

“My philosophy for running a campaign is doing the best possible job you can with your official duties, and then that includes Washington, D.C., but it also includes the 99-county tours that I’ve done for 34 years in a row,” Grassley said. “I’ve had seven town meetings so far this year.”

The 114th: CQ Roll Call’s Guide to the New Congress

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January 22, 2015

Harry Reid ‘Intending to Run,’ Expects Swift Recovery (Video)

(Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

Reid walks returned to the Capitol on Tuesday. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

The venue was different, and his face was bruised and bandaged, but Harry Reid was still Harry Reid.

With an American and Nevada flag in the background, along with a bald eagle and a box of “Search Light” matches on the wall over his shoulder, Reid held court with reporters in a meeting room in his Capitol office suite for a news conference that could’ve taken place any Tuesday afternoon near the Senate’s iconic Ohio Clock.

Full story

January 15, 2015

Obama Meets Senate Democrats in Baltimore After Lunch With Mikulski (Updated)

Mikulski had lunch with Obama Thursday ahead of his address to the Democratic retreat. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

Mikulski had lunch with Obama Thursday ahead of his address to the Democratic retreat. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

Updated 3:40 p.m. | BALTIMORE — President Barack Obama may not be Jay Leno, but he has earned top billing at the annual issues conference for Senate Democrats at a hotel where he’s speaking Thursday.

His mid-afternoon appearance is entirely off limits to the media, in contrast to his 2010 appearance down the street for a similar retreat with House Republicans. This year, most of the media attention was with the new Senate majority GOP and their House counterparts, who huddled for a joint retreat in Hershey, Pa.

There, reporters were being treated to pen-and-pad sessions and media availabilities with prominent Republicans from both sides of the Rotunda, including House Republican Conference Chairwoman Cathy McMorris-Rodgers and her Senate counterpart, John Thune of South Dakota.

Full story

January 12, 2015

Cornyn: ‘We Learned the Hard Way’

"We have the responsibility to govern," Cornyn said. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

“We have the responsibility to govern,” Cornyn said. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

At the start of the last Congress, John Cornyn wrote an editorial titled “Partial Government Shutdown May Be Needed to Restore Fiscal Sanity.” He’s singing a different tune today.

“I’ve evolved,” the Texas Republican and newly minted Senate majority whip said in an interview last week with CQ Roll Call.

For starters, the memory of the 2013 shutdown over Obamacare instigated by his fellow Texas senator, Ted Cruz, remains fresh. Full story

January 6, 2015

A Battered Reid Stays on Message (Video)

After missing the opening of the Senate, a battered Minority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said in an online video message that Democrats would continue to fight for the middle class.

“We understand the rich are getting richer, the poor are getting poorer [and] the middle class is being squeezed literally out of existence,” Reid said.” And we are going to do everything we can to fulfill the expectation the middle class has.”

Full story

January 2, 2015

Democrats Call on GOP to Keep CBO’s Elmendorf

Schumer, D-N.Y. speaks at the National Press Club on Tuesday, Nov. 25, 2014, on what went wrong for Democrats in the 2014 midterm elections and what they must do to succeed in 2016. (Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

Schumer warned Republicans against “any effort to politicize” the Congressional Budget Office. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Sen. Charles E. Schumer and five other Senate Democrats raised concerns in a letter Friday that Republican leaders will replace the current Congressional Budget Office director as part of an effort to repeal the Affordable Care Act.

“We strongly object to any effort to politicize this important office,” the letter said. “Appointing a new CBO Director on the basis of ideology would fundamentally compromise the integrity of an institution that has served as a trusted scorekeeper.” Full story

December 22, 2014

Senator: Liberia Is Safe for Travel

ebola

Coons is a Democrat from Delaware. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Sen. Chris Coons, D-Del., used his 4-day trip to Ebola-stricken Liberia to emphasize it is a safe place to travel — and additional investment may be needed to keep it that way.

“By my coming, I was hoping to demonstrate it was safe; that it is possible to come and engage in Liberia,” said Coons, who is the first member of Congress to visit the country since the disease spread across West Africa earlier this year. Full story

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 15, 2014

Democratic Senator Opposes Murthy Nomination

(Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

(Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Sen. Joe Manchin III, D-W.Va., said Monday he would vote against the confirmation of Vivek Murthy to be surgeon general, citing concerns over political positions the nominee has taken.

“Our Surgeon General serves as America’s leader on public health services and chooses what health policies we should prioritize,” Manchin said in a release. “For that reason, I don’t believe it’s appropriate for America’s number one doctor to participate in political activism.”

Murthy’s nomination has been clouded by his support for gun control policies, which spurred the National Rifle Association to voice vehement opposition to his confirmation. Full story

December 12, 2014

Paul and Rubio Spar Over Foreign Policy, ISIS AUMF

Marco Rubio has staked out a more hawkish foreign policy than rival Rand Paul. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Marco Rubio has staked out a more hawkish foreign policy than rival Rand Paul. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

The nation may have gotten a little taste of 2016 Republican presidential politics Thursday as Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky squared off with Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida on foreign policy.

At a Senate Foreign Relations Committee markup, Paul, a potential 2106 presidential candidate, offered an amendment setting geographic limits to an Authorization for Use of Military Force cleared by the committee that would set parameters on the nation’s fight against the terror group known as Islamic State, ISIS, or ISIL.

The amendment failed on a 13 to 5 vote. But the preceding debate, which was respectful, saw Paul and Rubio, who may also seek the Republican nomination for president, disagree over how much Congress should rein in the commander in chief.

The split highlights a debate within the party over America’s role abroad that will likely play out in the run up to 2016. Full story

December 10, 2014

Harry Reid Making Most of Final Days in Majority (Video)

(Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

(Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid isn’t going quietly into the night.

The Nevada Democrat and former professional pugilist is racking up legislative victories in his final days on the job, ahead of what is likely to be another tough re-election campaign in 2016 and at least two years with “minority” in his title.

In recent days, Reid notched a victory in his never-ending fight to keep Yucca Mountain from becoming the nation’s nuclear waste dump, and he is maneuvering to pass a series of land bills that have long been a priority for him and other members of the Nevada delegation.

Reid also helped secure reauthorization of the Travel Promotion Act in the catch-all spending bill known as the “cromnibus.”

All are important to Nevada, and that could benefit Reid when he faces the voters two years hence.

Full story

November 19, 2014

End of the Road for Michael Boggs Nomination?

Chambliss, left, and Isakson, right, still hope Boggs will be confirmed. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Chambliss, left, and Isakson, right, still hope Boggs will be confirmed. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

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

McConnell Cites ISIS in Opposition to Leahy Surveillance Bill

(Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

McConnell opposes efforts to roll back NSA data gathering. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

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

Senate Republicans Jubilant at Election Party

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.

No longer.

“It’s been too long,” one staffer was heard exclaiming. Full story

October 10, 2014

Army War College Revokes Senator’s Degree

(Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

(Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

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.

RELATED STORIES:

Internet Confused About John Walsh, the College Years

Walsh on Plagiarism: ‘I Made a Mistake’ But Not Due to PTSD

John Walsh Drops Senate Bid in Montana

Roll Call Election Map: Race Ratings for Every Seat

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