Roll Call: Latest News on Capitol Hill, Congress, Politics and Elections
October 1, 2014

September 30, 2014

Get Ready: Attorney General Confirmations Are Partisan Skirmishes

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Holder had a tough time getting confirmed and the next nominee could face an even tougher process. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

President Barack Obama hasn’t named a replacement for outgoing Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr., but that future nominee can count on a contentious Senate confirmation process, whether it happens in the November lame-duck session or next year.

Attorney general nominations and confirmations — like everything in Washington — have become highly partisan clashes in recent years. Janet Reno, in 1993, was the last attorney general to be confirmed without any “no” votes. (Of course, her pathway to the job was anything but smooth. She was Bill Clinton’s third choice, after it was revealed that his top pick, corporate lawyer Zoe Baird, and his second, federal judge Kimba Wood, both had employed illegal immigrants as nannies.)

Among the most contentious nomination fights in recent years:

Full story

September 29, 2014

Boehner Aide Calls Earnest’s ISIS Remarks ‘Stupid’

Republican Leadership 17 111913 445x295 Boehner Aide Calls Earnests ISIS Remarks Stupid

Steel called Earnest’s comments “stupid.” (Douglas Graham/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Speaker John A. Boehner’s spokesman ripped White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest’s remarks today tying Boehner’s position on defeating ISIS to President George W. Bush’s Iraq policy.

“Trying, for political purposes, to link Speaker Boehner’s position on destroying ISIL with former President Bush’s Iraq policy and splitting hairs where they don’t exist is, frankly, stupid,” said Boehner spokesman Michael Steel. “That’s no way to build bipartisan support for a real strategy to keep America safe. Everyone understands that ruling out options in advance shows weakness to our enemies.”

Steel was reacting to Earnest’s comments in today’s daily briefing about Boehner’s comments on ABC’s “This Week” over the weekend. The Ohio Republican said there might be “no choice” but to deploy American ground forces against ISIS and criticized Obama for ruling out ground forces at the start. He did not call for an Iraq-style invasion, but was asked if U.S. ground forces would be needed if others did not step up. Full story

September 28, 2014

Boehner Would Back Ground War to Destroy ISIS, Willing to Bring Congress Back for AUMF

boehner 155 061914 445x289 Boehner Would Back Ground War to Destroy ISIS, Willing to Bring Congress Back for AUMF

(Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Updated 9:05 a.m. | Speaker John A. Boehner would back a ground war to destroy ISIS, and would bring Congress back to Washington to vote if President Barack Obama proposed a new Authorization to Use Military Force (AUMF).

Boehner, R-Ohio, who last week said an authorization vote should not be held in the lame duck session, said in an interview with ABC’s “This Week” that he would back a vote if the president proposed a new AUMF now.

“I’d bring the Congress back,” Boehner said. He said earlier that he thinks Obama has the authority to act on his own against ISIS — also known as ISIL or the Islamic State — “but the point I’m making is this is a proposal that the Congress ought to consider.” Full story

By Steven Dennis Posted at 10:14 a.m.
ISIS, John Boehner

September 26, 2014

Eric Holder Lame-Duck Fight? White House Points to McConnell Precedent

mcconnell 266 091814 445x286 Eric Holder Lame Duck Fight? White House Points to McConnell Precedent

Earnest offered to the 2006 lame-duck confirmation of Robert Gates, supported then by McConnell, as precedent for confirming Holder’s successor.  (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest is citing Sen. Mitch McConnell’s support for the lame-duck confirmation of then-Defense Secretary Robert Gates in 2006 as precedent for a quick confirmation of a replacement for Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr.

Earnest made the reference Friday at the his daily briefing, although he did not lay out a timetable for the president to make his decision.

He noted unprompted that the Gates nomination came the day after midterm elections with Democrats winning control of the chamber, and McConnell, R-Ky., did not propose waiting until the new Democratic Senate took over before holding a vote.

Gates, however, won overwhelming support — a 95-2 vote — and a delay would not have affected the outcome.

Earnest also noted the swift confirmation of Michael Mukasey as attorney general in 2007 by a Senate of the other party.

The Mukasey vote was narrow — 53-40.

The White House hopes for quick consideration under either scenario.

Related:

Lawmakers Weigh In on Holder Resignation

Senate Democrats Will Have Chance to Confirm Successor

Holder Resigns With a Wink and a Nod (Video)

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September 25, 2014

Eric Holder to Resign (Updated)

leahy holder 119 061212 445x298 Eric Holder to Resign (Updated)

Holder’s resignation announcement ensures Senate Democrats a chance to confirm a successor. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Updated 12:30 p.m. | Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. will announce his resignation Thursday at the White House, according to a Justice Department official, in a move that shocked and saddened some of his supporters but had Republicans cheering. He will serve until his successor is confirmed.

By announcing his resignation now, Holder gives President Barack Obama and Senate Democrats the opportunity to confirm a successor in the lame-duck session even if Republicans take over the Senate in the midterm elections. After deploying the “nuclear option” last year, a minority cannot filibuster the confirmation of an administration official, effectively allowing Democrats to ignore Republicans on nominees. But that would all change if Republicans controlled the chamber.

The White House has scheduled the announcement for 4:30 p.m.

Senate Judiciary Chairman Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., told MSNBC he spoke with Holder and the White House today and hopes Obama will pick a nominee soon and the Senate should confirm  a replacement “as quickly as possible.”

“But I hate to see Eric Holder leave…. Nobody’s done it better than he has,” Leahy said.

NPR, which broke the story, named Solicitor General Donald Verrilli Jr. as a possible successor, citing sources. Verrilli regularly defends the administration before the Supreme Court, including in the landmark case upholding the bulk of the Affordable Care Act.

The news, announced by House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., at a forum by the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation, caused gasps and shock from the crowd.

“That is so bad. That is terrible. Why?…That is so sad,” Rep. John Lewis, D-Ga., can be heard on the tape. “That is shocking.”

Pelosi led a round of applause for Holder.

But Holder’s long had a strained relationship with Republicans on Capitol Hill, with the House making history by voting to hold him in contempt in 2012, the first Cabinet official ever to be held in contempt.

Lawmakers are also already reacting on Twitter.

Rep. Jeff Duncan, R-S.C., cheered.

Not surprisingly, Democrats were kinder.

Here’s the full background memo from the Justice official:

Later today, at a formal event at the White House, Attorney General Holder will announce his plans to depart the administration after nearly six years leading the Justice Department. The Attorney General has agreed to remain in his post until the confirmation of his successor.

Holder is the 82nd Attorney General and the first African-American to serve in the role. He currently ranks as the fourth-longest serving Attorney General in United States history; he will have the third-longest tenure if he remains in office into December. He is one of only three Cabinet members from President Obama’s original team still serving in the post to which he was first named.

Attorney General Holder has discussed his plans personally with the President on multiple occasions in recent months, and finalized those plans in an hour-long conversation with the President at the White House residence over Labor Day weekend. At a formal announcement later today, the Attorney General plans to express his personal gratitude to the President for the opportunity to serve in his administration and to lead the Justice Department, which he will call the “greatest honor of my professional life.” He will note he has loved the Justice Department since, when he was a boy, he watched how, under Attorney General Kennedy, the Department played a leadership role in advancing the civil rights movement. During his tenure as Attorney General, Holder has had Attorney General Kennedy’s portrait in his conference room.

The Attorney General has no immediate plans once he steps down. He does, however, wish to stay actively involved in some of the causes to which he has devoted his time in office. In particular, following his recent visit to Ferguson, Missouri, he has spoken with friends and associates about his wish to find a way, even after rejoining private life, to continue helping to restore trust between law enforcement and minority communities. As a career prosecutor with strong relationships with law enforcement, as well as the first African-American Attorney General who retains deep ties to leading civil rights organizations, Holder is uniquely positioned to help lead such a project.

Upon his departure, Holder will conclude a career at the Justice Department that, added together, will have spanned 26 years. He has served at almost every level of the Department over that time. He first joined the Department right out of Columbia Law School in 1976 as a member of the Attorney General’s Honors Program. He was assigned to the newly created public integrity unit within the Criminal Division as a career prosecutor focused on corruption cases. In 1993, President Bill Clinton appointed Holder as the U.S. Attorney for Washington, D.C. He served in that role until 1997, when he was appointed Deputy Attorney General, becoming the first African-American to serve in that role.

Holder also served for four years as a Superior Court judge in Washington DC. Immediately prior to becoming Attorney General, Holder was in private practice as a litigation partner at the firm Covington & Burling.

The Attorney General’s tenure has been marked by historic gains in the areas of criminal justice reform and civil rights enforcement. The last week alone has seen several announcements related to these signature issues. On Tuesday, in a milestone moment for Holder’s efforts to reduce the trend of ever-increasing incarceration, the Attorney General announced that the federal prison population showed the first annual drop since 1982. On Wednesday, in a new step on sentencing reform, the Attorney General instructed federal prosecutors to no longer ask judges to approve enhanced sentences for defendants simply because they may reject plea deals. And just today, Holder announced that the Department would become involved in a lawsuit over New York’s public defender program, siding with the plaintiffs in arguing that the defenders’ excessive caseloads are preventing them from providing low-income defendants with adequate counsel.

Holder is expected to remain busy in his remaining time in the job. Over the coming weeks, the Department is expected to impose new curbs on racial profiling in the context of federal law enforcement investigations; the policy is expected to prevent the considerations of other characteristics beyond race—such as ethnicity, religion and sexual orientation—as well as apply the ban to national security investigations for the first time. The Attorney General also hopes to complete, by year’s end, the review on the death penalty that the President ordered the Department to conduct last spring. On financial fraud, the Attorney General has discussed the possibility of individuals soon being criminally charged in connection with an ongoing investigation into several major financial institutions. And in the event that the Supreme Court decides to hear a case on state bans on same-sex marriage this term, Holder has indicated the Department would file a brief consistent with its past support for marriage equality.

On Friday, the Attorney General will travel to the US Attorney’s office in Scranton, Pennsylvania. In doing so, he will complete his goal of visiting all 93 federal prosecutors’ offices across the country during his time in office. He is believed to be the first Attorney General to accomplish this feat. Attorney General Holder reserved Scranton for his final stop because the Middle District of Pennsylvania was the site of his first victory as a Justice Department trial attorney in the late 1970s.

Earlier today, Attorney General Holder privately informed his staff and top officials at the Justice Department about his departure plans. He also placed calls to congressional officials and friends.

Holder is married to Dr. Sharon Malone and has three children.

Joanna Anderson contributed to this report.

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September 24, 2014

Obama’s United Nations Speech Skips Over Congress

Obama UN 445x296 Obamas United Nations Speech Skips Over Congress

Obama spoke at the United Nations on Wednesday. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

President Barack Obama’s soaring speech at the United Nations General Assembly addressed a host of pressing issues — ISIS, Ebola, Ukraine. One word he didn’t mention? Congress.

With Congress out of town, this week has seen perhaps the purest iteration of the president’s pen-and-phone-and-podium governing style. Airstrikes in Syria were launched on the president’s authority, without a new vote in Congress. And the president is pushing for a sweeping climate change agenda for the world — though that’s something he couldn’t get through a Democratic Congress, let alone a Republican House that has passed bill after bill looking to rein in his efforts, not expand them.

On the world stage, Congress has receded. It’s Obama’s policies that will carry the day — or not — on Ukraine, Iran’s nuclear ambitions, the Ebola epidemic, or fighting ISIS. Full story

Obama’s Poll Numbers Underwater for a Year

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It’s been a tough 12 months of poll numbers for Obama. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

President Barack Obama’s Gallup tracking poll numbers are about to hit an ignominious milestone — a solid year with more people disapproving than approving of his performance.

One year ago, Obama’s approval numbers and disapproval numbers were bouncing around. His last positive result came Sept. 23-25, 2013, and 47 percent approved and 46 percent disapproved, according to Gallup’s website.

Then a series of fall crises hit — the government shutdown, the disastrous rollout of Healthcare.gov and Obama’s admission that he failed to keep his “if you like it, you can keep it” promise. Obama hasn’t had a single day above water since then, though he came within a point a couple of times.

And he hasn’t had an approval rating of 51 percent since a May 2013 Gallup poll. Full story

By Steven Dennis Posted at 11:36 a.m.
Polls

September 23, 2014

Obama Touts Congressional Support for Syria Strikes (Video)

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Obama said Tuesday he has congressional backing for the airstrikes in Syria. (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images/File Photo)

Congress ducked a Syria war authorization vote, but that isn’t stopping President Barack Obama from touting support for his airstrikes against the Islamic State and other terror groups in Syria.

“I’ve spoken to leaders in Congress, and I’m pleased that there’s bipartisan support for the actions that we’re taking,” Obama said Tuesday. “America’s always stronger when we stand united, and that unity sends a powerful message to the world that we will do what’s necessary to defend our country,” he said before heading to New York for meetings at the United Nations.

Obama touted the Arab coalition that joined in the strikes — Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Jordan, Bahrain and Qatar.  Full story

Congress Reacts to Syria Airstrikes

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McKeon and other congressional leaders praised the airstrikes in Syria. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Congressional hawks are cheering the multifaceted overnight airstrikes in Syria that included attacks on Islamic State insurgents and an al Qaida offshoot called the Khorasan Group, while others are lamenting Congress’ decision to duck a war authorization vote.

“Our men and women in uniform are once again striking an enemy that threatens our freedom,” said House Armed Services Chairman Howard “Buck” McKeon, R-Calif.  ”This is one step in what will be a long fight against ISIL. With strong coalition partners, a capable military, and a clear mission; it is a fight we can win.”

The Islamic State is also known as ISIL or ISIS.

“It is especially significant — indeed historic — that these strikes involve forces from Bahrain, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates,” said Senate Armed Services Chairman Carl Levin, D-Mich. ”The visible, public involvement of Arab and Muslim nations is crucial to long-term success against ISIS. While Western military force can help combat the poisonous ideology of groups such as ISIS, ultimately it is up to Muslim nations to resist and eliminate this poison.”

Other lawmakers said the strikes should have been authorized by Congress, including Rep. Bradley Byrne, R-Ala.

Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Va., on MSNBC reiterated his push for Congress to act, but said he doesn’t expect Congress to return until after the elections.

So far, any opposition in Congress has been muted.

“To defeat ISIS, we must cut off the head of the snake, which exists in Syria,” said Michael McCaul, R-Texas, chairman of House Homeland Security, in a statement.

House Foreign Affairs Chairman Ed Royce of California called the strikes “long overdue.”

“While this initial attack will be a big psychological blow to the terrorist group, an air campaign will need to be major and sustained,” he said.

President Obama is scheduled to speak about the strikes in an address from the White House before he heads to New York for the United Nations General Assembly.

The simultaneous strikes against the Khorasan Group, meanwhile, were taken to disrupt an “imminent attack.”

“The United States has also taken action to disrupt the imminent attack plotting against the United States and Western interests conducted by a network of seasoned al-Qa’ida veterans — sometimes referred to as the Khorasan Group — who have established a safe haven in Syria to develop external attacks, construct and test improvised explosive devices and recruit Westerners to conduct operations,” Central Command said in a statement this morning.

State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said the Syrian regime was informed of the intent to strike by Samantha Power, the U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations.

“We warned Syria not to engage U.S. aircraft.  We did not request the regime’s permission.  We did not coordinate our actions with the Syrian government. We did not provide advance notification to the Syrians at a military level, or give any indication of our timing on specific targets,” she said.

John Donnelly contributed to this report.

 

Related:

Congressional Hawks Cheer Overnight Strikes in Syria

House Votes to Arm Syrian Rebels; CR Passes

Bipartisan Bloc Coalesces Behind CR, Syrian Rebels Amendment

McCarthy Suggests Post-Election Vote Authorizing Military Force

Path Forward on CR, Title 10 Authority Starts to Crystalize

Obama Asserts Authority to Take on ISIS Without Congress

Congress Locked in ISIS War Muddle

Inhofe: Obama Speech Prompts ‘Sigh of Relief’ From ISIS

Obama Speech Excerpt: We’re Going to (Air) War Against ISIS

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September 22, 2014

How Much Will the War Against ISIS Cost? It Depends.

455923388 445x299 How Much Will the War Against ISIS Cost? It Depends.

(Mark Wilson/Getty Images News)

The ISIS war might cost U.S. taxpayers tens of billions. Or it might not. At this point, the White House still isn’t releasing an approximate figure.

CQ Roll Call asked White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest at today’s press briefing if he had a ballpark estimate, and he didn’t have one handy. The Office of Management and Budget hasn’t provided one yet either — we’ve been asking.

An outside expert has estimated the war could cost $1.5 billion a month, about the cost of the NASA budget. It had been costing $7.5 million a day through August, before President Barack Obama dramatically ramped up the mission.

But the cost will also depend on Obama’s strategy, and how successful he is at courting the scores of coalition partners to shoulder either the burdens of military action, or providing cash.

“One way that countries can participate in this coalition and contribute to this broader effort is financially,” Earnest said Monday. Full story

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