Roll Call: Latest News on Capitol Hill, Congress, Politics and Elections
April 17, 2014

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March 24, 2014

Heller Seeks Answers on NHTSA’s GM Investigation

Sen. Dean Heller, R-Nev., wrote to the National Highway Traffic and Safety Administration to determine if the agency properly conducted an audit of General Motors’ ignition switch problem.

“Even with access to information directly from the manufacturer, the Office of Defects Investigation declined to move forward in both 2007 and 2010 on any vehicle recall recommendation,” Heller wrote to NHTSA acting administrator David J. Friedman.

The problem has been linked to 12 deaths and 31 crashes and GM ultimately announced a recall in February, which grew to about 1.7 million cars. The company acknowledged that it first became aware of the issue in 2001. Full story

March 17, 2014

Obama Announces Russia Sanctions, Warns More to Come

ireland010 031414 445x304 Obama Announces Russia Sanctions, Warns More to Come

(Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

With congressional action delayed and Russia appearing on the verge of annexing Crimea, President Barack Obama announced a new round of sanctions against the Russian government Monday.

“We are making it clear that there are consequences for their actions,” Obama said. Eleven people, including seven government officials and other “cronies” of the government, have been sanctioned in the dispute over Ukraine, prohibiting them from doing business with the United States and freezing their assets.

“Further provocations will achieve nothing,” Obama said, except to deepen Russia’s isolation. The United States stands ready to impose additional sanctions, he said. Full story

By Steven Dennis Posted at 11:17 a.m.

March 6, 2014

Dalai Lama Gives Senate Opening Prayer (Video)

It was a historic morning in the Senate Thursday, when the Dalai Lama gave the Senate’s opening prayer in place of Senate Chaplain Barry C. Black.

Attendance, however, left something to be desired. A good number of staffers were gathered on the floor and in the galleries, but the chamber was by no means packed. Perhaps a dozen senators were present when Sen. Patrick J. Leahy, D-Vt., brought the Senate into session and yielded to the Dalai Lama for the morning prayer.

“We make our world. Speak or act with a pure mind, and happiness will follow you,” he said. “This is my favorite prayer. Daily I pray this.”

Following the opening prayer, Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., requested that the Senate recess in order for senators to meet with the Dalai Lama. Full story

March 5, 2014

Harkin Calls DOJ Vote Lowest Point in 30-Year Career (Video)

Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, on Wednesday called the Senate’s rejection of President Barack Obama’s nominee to lead the Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division the “lowest point” of his 30-year career.

“I don’t say that lightly,” Harkin said. “I was here during the impeachment process, trial for President [Bill] Clinton. I kind of thought that was a sham, but that didn’t compare to what happened today.”

Harkin, the sixth-longest serving member in the 113th Congress, criticized the Senate for what he called an “emotional vote.”

“I will not name any names, but I had one senator say, ‘my head tells me that he should be confirmed but my guts, my emotions say no.’ Shame, on all of us here; especially the lawyers.”

Obama’s pick, Debo P. Adegbile, was the first nominee blocked since Democrats invoked the “nuclear option” in November.

By JM Rieger Posted at 9:12 p.m.

February 26, 2014

Reid Gets Agreement for Floor Debate on Military Sexual Assault

luncheons003 022514 445x302 Reid Gets Agreement for Floor Debate on Military Sexual Assault

(Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

The Senate has reached a time agreement deal for holding votes on a pair of bills designed to combat sexual assault in the military, but there’s no date certain for the debate.

Under the agreement, there would be two hours of debate before the Senate would vote on a motion to limit debate on the proposal offered by Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y. That legislation would make numerous changes to the way the Pentagon handles sexual assault allegations, including removing decisions from the chain of command.

“If you listen to the survivors of these sexual traumas and sexual assaults, they will tell you what needs to be done is the decision-making has to be taken out of the chain of command in order to create transparency, and accountability, and have that decision-maker be objective,” Gillibrand said making her case Wednesday on CNN’s The Lead With Jake Tapper.

Full story

February 11, 2014

Clean Debt Limit Vote Praised by Senate Democrats

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(Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Key Senate Democrats lauded the decision by Speaker John A. Boehner, R-Ohio, not to attach any extraneous provisions to a must-pass increase in the debt ceiling.

“The House has come to the realization that following the hard right on the debt ceiling made no sense, which is good for the House, good for the Republican Party and good for America,” said Sen. Charles E. Schumer, the No. 3 Democrat in the Senate. “We hope soon enough they’ll come to the same realization on immigration.” Full story

February 6, 2014

‘Gang of 8′ Mixed Over Boehner Immigration Comments

The bipartisan group of eight senators who led the charge to pass a Senate immigration overhaul were mixed over whether reservations on moving a plan voiced by Speaker John A. Boehner, R-Ohio, spells the end of the effort this year.

Sen. Jeff Flake thought that the speaker was pulling the curtain down on the effort for the year.

“I don’t know how you don’t read impossible out of those statements,” the Arizona Republican said.

He added that he was disappointed. “I wish we’d do it. We can’t keep putting it off,” he said.

But others held out hope a deal could still be reached after Boehner said that an immigration overhaul package would be difficult to pass this year in large part because Republicans don’t trust President Barack Obama to enforce the laws uniformly. Full story

February 4, 2014

Hoffman Overdose Prompts Congressional Scrutiny of Heroin Usage Spike

reid020414 445x296 Hoffman Overdose Prompts Congressional Scrutiny of Heroin Usage Spike

(Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

A high-profile overdose and the spike in heroin-related addiction has caught the attention of Congress. And now, lawmakers may crack down.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid on Tuesday called heroin an affliction on the nation, and Senate Judiciary Chairman Patrick J. Leahy said he plans to hold a hearing that focuses on law enforcement, because the drug has become an increasing problem in his home state of Vermont.

“The headlines over the last couple of days have been the death of — in my opinion — one of the great actors of our time, Philip Seymour Hoffman,” Reid said. “He died of a drug overdose of heroin.”

The Nevada Democrat made a point to discuss the topic while Leahy was on the floor, given the rise of heroin usage in the Green Mountain State. Reid noted that Vermont Gov. Peter Shumlin has called the issue a crisis that spreads addiction and crime.

Full story

McConnell: White House Effort to Save Ky. Fish Hurting Tourism

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(Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., took to the Senate floor Tuesday to question the Obama administration’s efforts to protect an endangered Kentucky fish by keeping water levels lower than normal at Lake Cumberland, which would hurt recreation on the lake.

The fish, known as the duskytail darter, were discovered in nearby tributaries of the lake.  Federal wildlife officials believe raising the lake’s water level would run the risk of putting the fish in open water, threatening their survival.

“Last week the Obama administration sided with this minnow over the economic well-being of thousands of people in Southeastern Kentucky who live near or depend on Lake Cumberland as a major driver of commerce, tourism and recreation,” said McConnell, who is up for re-election and has a tea party primary challenger. Full story

January 30, 2014

Mark Udall’s Son Arrested for Heroin Possession, Plans to Seek Treatment

The 26-year-old son of Colorado Democratic Sen. Mark Udall was arrested Wednesday on charges including heroin possession, according to local news reports.

“Maggie and I are deeply distressed to learn of our son’s arrest. We love our son and stand with him in his commitment to getting the treatment he needs,” Udall said in a statement. “We appreciate the private space to deal with this as a family.” Full story

January 28, 2014

Manchin: White House Waiting for 2014 Elections on Gun Control

President Barack Obama did not mention the words “background checks” in his State of the Union address Tuesday night. And don’t expect him to push for expanding federal background checks until after the 2014 elections, according to a top lawmaker on the issue.

Sen. Joe Manchin III, D-W.Va., said Tuesday that, to his knowledge, there are no behind-the-scenes negotiations on gun control extending beyond Obama’s brief comments in his speech Tuesday. After spending a significant amount of time speaking about gun control in 2013, weeks after a mass shooting at a Connecticut elementary school, Obama glossed over gun control in 2014. Manchin said he believed the administration would wait until after the 2014 midterm elections.

“I think basically, the numbers are what they are right now. They’ll probably wait until the 2014 election and see what happens,” Manchin said.

Full story

January 24, 2014

Loskarn Found in Basement After Suicide, Authorities Say (Updated) (Video)

Updated 12:57 p.m. | Former Senate staffer Jesse Ryan Loskarn was found dead Thursday in Sykesville, Md., after he committed suicide, according to local authorities.

Loskarn, the former chief of staff for Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., was residing with his parents after being released into their custody following an arrest on child pornography charges. The deadline to bring an indictment against Loskarn, originally scheduled for this month, was delayed until Feb. 10.

“At approximately 12pm yesterday, Carroll County Sheriff’s Deputies responded to a private residence in the 6900 block of Kenmar Lane for a report of an unconscious male, believed to be deceased,” the Carroll County Sheriff’s Department said in a statement Friday. “Family members reported finding 35 year old Jesse Ryan Loskarn unresponsive in his basement where he’d been residing with family since this past December. The preliminary investigation indicates that Loskarn may have taken his own life, and his body has since been transported to the State Medical Examiner’s Office for Autopsy.

Alexander’s office released a statement that said: “For everyone involved, this is a sad and tragic story from beginning to end.”

The sheriff’s office said the case remains under investigation. The Maryland State Medical Examiner confirmed hanging was the cause of death, which has been ruled a suicide. A source who knew Loskarn said a family friend had been reaching out with the news. News of the apparent suicide was first reported by The Tennessean and Politico.

Abby Livingston, Meredith Shiner and Hannah Hess contributed to this report.

January 23, 2014

33 Senators to Finance Leaders: Save the Charitable Deduction

taxreform 161 072913 445x279 33 Senators to Finance Leaders: Save the Charitable Deduction

In the letter to Baucus, left, 33 senators call for preserving the charitable deduction. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Fans of the federal income tax deduction for charitable contributions should not fear.

Thirty-three senators, including the expected next chairman of the Finance Committee, Oregon Democrat Ron Wyden, want to ensure it sticks around.

Wyden and Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., led the letter to current Finance Chairman Max Baucus, D-Mont., and ranking member Orrin G. Hatch, R-Utah. The Foreign Relations Committee is scheduled to hold a hearing next week on the nomination of Baucus to be ambassador to China, and there’s every expectation he will see swift confirmation.

In the moves that follow, Wyden is on track to take the Finance gavel. In a sense, Wyden is writing a letter to his future self.

Full story

January 8, 2014

Dueling Senate Leaders Lament Obstructionism, Partisanship (Video)

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and Majority Leader Harry Reid traded floor speeches on Wednesday, accusing the other of partisanship while calling for an end to obstructionism.

The Kentucky Republican criticized the “nuclear option” invoked by the Nevada Democrat in November, but he emphasized he was not trying to “point the finger of blame.”

“My purpose is to suggest that the Senate can do better than it has been and that we must be if we’re to remain as a great nation,” McConnell said. “This is a behavioral problem. It doesn’t require a rules change. We just need to act differently with each other.”

McConnell, who proposed an amendment on Tuesday that would tie jobless benefits to an Obamacare delay, criticized the majority leader for not allowing amendments on the unemployment insurance bill that advanced yesterday.

Reid accused the Republican leadership of distorting the facts.

“Since I’ve been leader, seven out of 10 amendments on which the Senate has voted have been … Republican amendments,” Reid said.

Reid called the remarks a “diversion” from the GOP’s “callous” and “cold-hearted” positions on issues facing the Senate.



December 31, 2013

Loskarn Indictment Delayed, Plea Bargain Possible

Faced with a January 2014 deadline to obtain a grand jury indictment on child pornography charges, the government and lawyers for Jesse Ryan Loskarn, the fired chief of staff for Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., have agreed to a 30-day delay.

Federal Magistrate Judge John M. Facciola approved the postponement, requested because of the holiday season and the fact that “much of the forensic work has not yet been completed,” according to court documents. The deadline to bring an indictment on charges of possession and distribution was moved to Feb. 10.

The motion for extension also suggests the parties to the high-profile suit are pursuing a plea bargain. They “intend to explore the possibility of a pre-indictment disposition,” the motion states. Full story

By Hannah Hess Posted at 11:48 a.m.

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