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July 30, 2014

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July 17, 2014

Putin Should Pay if Malaysia Airlines Jet Was Shot Down, McCain Says (Video)

mccain 028 090413 445x303 Putin Should Pay if Malaysia Airlines Jet Was Shot Down, McCain Says (Video)

(Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

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

Birth Control Legislation Stalls in Senate

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Udall, right, is a co-sponsor of the bill. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

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

By Sarah Chacko Posted at 2:36 p.m.

July 14, 2014

Carper Announces Press Shop Hires | Hill Climber

carper 044 0601014 445x303 Carper Announces Press Shop Hires | Hill Climber

Carper greets new hires. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Sen. Thomas R. Carper, D-Del., announced two staffing changes to his committee and personal offices Monday morning.

As chairman of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, Carper promoted Jennie Westbrook to be the committee’s communications director. She was formerly the committee press secretary.

Meghan Pennington has moved from the House to the Senate to become communications director for Carper’s personal office. Pennington and Westbrook replace the vacancy left by Emily Spain, who was promoted to legislative director in April.

“Jennie Westbrook has been an integral asset to our team over the past five years,” Carper said in a statement, adding, “As she takes on this exciting new role to spearhead the committee’s communications team, I have the utmost confidence that she will continue to thrive.”

Westbrook first joined Carper’s office in 2009 and worked as his press secretary. She then moved to the same position in his committee in 2013.

Pennington has worked as a communications director for the past two-and-a-half years for Rep. John Sarbanes, D-Md. Before joining Sarbanes’ office, she worked as a press secretary for the late Sen. Frank R. Lautenberg, D-N.J., as well as deputy press secretary and press assistant for Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski, D-Md.

“Her service in both chambers will prove to be an asset for me and Delawareans and I look forward to having her on our team,” Carper said of Pennington.

By Bridget Bowman Posted at 2:24 p.m.

July 7, 2014

Senate Democrats Call for Quick Action on Highway Patch

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Whitehouse says it would be politically detrimental for Republicans if the highway program should cease. (Douglas Graham/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

A trio of Democratic senators called for quick action this month on agreeing to keep funds flowing to transportation projects through the end of the year as bipartisan, bicameral negotiations continue on finding a way to pay for the patch.

“We have to. It is a necessity for the economy of this country, for our infrastructure and for everything else, to come to an agreement before the trust fund runs out,” Sen. Charles E. Schumer, the No. 3 Senate Democrat, said on a conference call.

“Our purpose today is to urge both sides to come together, to put down any partisan objection, to come to a compromise and get this done in the short term and then we can try to work on a longer term plan later,” the New York Democrat said. “To let the [highway] trust fund run out at time when we need jobs, we need the economy going, would be a disgrace.” Full story

July 1, 2014

Senate Democrats Plan July Push on Export-Import Bank, Woo Chamber

schumer001 012314 445x296 Senate Democrats Plan July Push on Export Import Bank, Woo Chamber

Schumer has urged the Chamber of Commerce to shift its allegiance to the Democrats with Republicans blocking business priorities like the Export-Import Bank and a new immigration law. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Senate Democrats intend to take up legislation this month reauthorizing the Export-Import Bank in the hope that a strong bipartisan vote in the chamber will help spur House Republican leaders to take up the measure.

“I believe we will bring the bill to the floor in July, before the August break, and we hope that business around the country, small businesses in particular, will rally to our side and tell their Congress member that we have to get the Export-Import Bank reauthorized,” said Sen. Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y., in a conference call with reporters.

“I think if we can pass it in the Senate, and particularly with a good bipartisan majority, there is more friendliness among Republicans for this bill, that it will put pressure on the House,” Schumer said.

His comments come after House Speaker John A. Boehner, R-Ohio, last week declined to commit to putting bank legislation on the floor before the credit agency’s authorization expires at the end of the fiscal year, Sept. 30.

“There’s a big debate going on in our conference, and we’re just going to have to sort our way through this,” Boehner said. “My job is to help facilitate the sorting through of this so that we can get to an outcome.”

Schumer pointed out that the GOP reluctance on extending the bank is just the latest of a series of business friendly proposals supported by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce at which Republicans have balked, including immigration reform, the Terrorism Risk Insurance Act, and a raft of expired tax breaks known as extenders. He attributes the change in position to the influence of the tea party.

“All of the sudden our Republican colleagues, particularly in the House, frightened by a small group that have a lot of power, particularly the tea party, has changed their point of view in way that definitely hurts the country, hurts the middle class and hurts jobs,” Schumer said, adding that there could be a political price to pay.

Asked if the Chamber of Commerce, led by President Tom Donohue, should reconsider its traditional allegiance to the GOP Schumer said “I hope they would examine that, absolutely.”

“I’ve said this to Tom Donohue and to others, in many ways mainstream Democrats are closer to you than many Republicans because the tea party has pulled them so far to the right that they are doing what is harmful to business,” Schumer said.

Conservative Republicans have critical of the bank and called for ending it, arguing it is wasteful corporate welfare.

The bank “exists to dole out taxpayer-backed loan guarantees to help American exporters,” said Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, in an April floor speech. “Most of the benefits go to large corporations that are perfectly capable of securing private financing anywhere in the world. That is to say, Congress allows Ex-Im Bank to risk taxpayer money unnecessarily to subsidize well-connected private companies.”

But Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., who was also on the call, said that the bank also helps small many businesses.

While she concedes that large companies like Boeing get a disproportionately large amount of aid from the bank, it also helps the many small businesses in Boeing’s supply chain.

“Yes it does help U.S. manufacturers,” Cantwell said. “And what people need to understand first and foremost is that U.S. manufacturers have a supply chain that is made up of thousands of small businesses. So for us in the Northwest the supply chain that supports Boeing is about 80,000 people in Washington State. So that supply chain is affected by those deals that U.S. manufacturers can make in the global marketplace where there is world demand for 35,000 new airplanes. So without the Ex-Im bank we won’t be competitive and that small business supply chain will be hurt.”

Cantwell also said she wants more small business to avail themselves of the bank and “chase the global marketplace.”

Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, who was also on the call, stressed that allowing the bank to expire would hurt the nation’s competitiveness given that other countries help their manufacturers.

“To not reauthorize the Ex-Im bank is like unilateral disarmament in our attempts to grow our manufacturing base and grow our export base,” North Dakota Democrat said.

“These are the arguments that are going to get our colleagues see the light and get this done sooner rather than later,” Heitkamp said.

April 28, 2014

John Kerry Regrets Israel ‘Apartheid’ Remark After Bipartisan Criticism

kerry121113 445x292 John Kerry Regrets Israel Apartheid Remark After Bipartisan Criticism

(Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Under bipartisan fire on Capitol Hill, Secretary of State John Kerry issued a sharply worded statement of his own regretting his use of the word “apartheid” to describe Israel’s future without a deal with the Palestinians.

In his statement, Kerry said he has long fought to support Israel during his 30 years in the Senate and as secretary of State.

“I will not allow my commitment to Israel to be questioned by anyone, particularly for partisan, political purposes, so I want to be crystal clear about what I believe and what I don’t believe,” he said.

He said he doesn’t believe that Israel is an apartheid state or “intends to be come one.”

“I have been around long enough to also know the power of words to create a misimpression, even when unintentional, and if I could rewind the tape, I would have chosen a different word to describe my firm belief that the only way in the long term to have a Jewish state and two nations and two peoples living side by side in peace and security is through a two state solution,” he said.

And while several Israeli leaders have used the word “apartheid,” Kerry added, “it is a word best left out of the debate here at home.” Full story

April 23, 2014

Boozman Family Hopeful As Senator Begins Recovery

0423boozman 239x335 Boozman Family Hopeful As Senator Begins Recovery

(Chris Maddaloni/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

The family of Sen. John Boozman, R-Ark., is hopeful and looking forward to the next stage of the senator’s recovery following his emergency heart surgery for an acute aortic dissection Tuesday.

“We appreciate the prayers, kind words and well-wishes that have come from Arkansans and people all across the country,” the family said in a statement. “Our number one priority is making sure John makes a full recovery.” Full story

April 21, 2014

Menendez Not Staying Quiet at Foreign Relations

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(Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

The U.S. Agency for International Development’s much-maligned Twitter-esque program in Cuba had a quick defender on Capitol Hill — Senate Foreign Relations Chairman Robert Menendez.

“For more than 50 years, the U.S. has had an unwavering commitment to promote freedom of information in the world,” the New Jersey Democrat said at a hearing earlier this month. “I do not believe that USAID’s actions … are, in any way, a ‘cockamamie idea.’ ”

It was a direct rebuke of Sen. Patrick J. Leahy, D-Vt., the chairman of the Appropriations State and Foreign Operations Subcommittee who called the Twitter-like program, known as ZunZuneo, “cockamamie” and “dumb, dumb, dumb.” Leahy suggested the alleged secrecy of the program — USAID denies that it was covert — could potentially endanger other agency workers around the world. Menendez pushed instead for a review of efforts to reach people in other authoritarian regimes.

He has been anything but a shrinking violet since taking over the Foreign Relations gavel from John Kerry last year. Full story

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

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(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

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