Roll Call: Latest News on Capitol Hill, Congress, Politics and Elections
February 7, 2016

February 5, 2016

On Unemployment Rate, Obama Spikes the Football


In this photo made using a teleconverter in-between two crop factors, President Barack Obama addresses a crowd of around 15,000 during a state arrival ceremony for Pope Francis on Sept. 23, 2015. (Photo By Al Drago/CQ Roll Call)

In this photo made using a teleconverter in-between two crop factors, President Barack Obama addresses a crowd of around 15,000 during a state arrival ceremony for Pope Francis on Sept. 23, 2015. (Photo By Al Drago/CQ Roll Call)

President Barack Obama on Friday took credit for the latest jobs report, saying the 4.9 percent rate shows his stewardship has made the U.S. economy the “strongest and most durable” in the world.

The Labor Department on Friday released data that was a mixed bag for both American workers and the Obama administration. The numbers showed the lowest unemployment rate in eight years and rising wages; they also concluded that 151,000 new jobs were created in January, down from three consecutive months during which nearly 300,000 jobs were created per month.

“After reaching 10 percent in 2009, the unemployment rate has now fallen to 4.9 percent even as more American joined the job market last month,” Obama told reporters during a rare appearance in the White House briefing room. “Americans are working.” Full story

Criminal Justice Debate Turns to ‘How Much’ Is Possible


 

Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn, R-Texas, talks with reporters at the Capitol. (Photo By Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn, R-Texas, talks with reporters at the Capitol. (Photo by Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

Debate about a sweeping criminal justice overhaul bill favored by Republicans and Democrats is now focused on the size and scope of potential changes, but there are reasons to doubt its passage this year.

Some congressional aides and members of the advocacy community involved in the overhaul effort say they remain upbeat about Obama signing a measure into law — possibly before Congress adjourns for a prolonged summer and campaign season break.

Still, some sources say, with one month of a truncated election-year legislative calendar already gone and the politics of an election year overlapping the legislative calendar, the prospects for the kind of soup-to-nuts bill Obama and some senior Republicans want appear to be fading. Full story

February 3, 2016

At Maryland Mosque, Obama Calls Muslims ‘Real Americans’


President Obama speaks during his final State of the Union address last month. (Photo By Al Drago/CQ Roll Call)

President Obama speaks during his final State of the Union address last month. (Photo By Al Drago/CQ Roll Call)

Visiting a mosque on U.S. soil for the first time, President Barack Obama urged Americans to reject politics that target those of a single faith and told Muslim-Americans “you’re right where you belong.”

Obama’s visit to the Islamic Society of Baltimore offered him a chance to counter anti-Muslim rhetoric from some leading GOP presidential hopefuls such as Donald Trump. And it was met with resistance from some on the country’s political right. Full story

February 2, 2016

Ryan, McConnell Find Little ‘Common Ground’ at White House


Speaker Paul Ryan and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell walk to the Senate Republicans' policy lunch in the Capitol on Nov. 3. (Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

Speaker Paul Ryan and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell walk to the Senate Republicans’ policy lunch in the Capitol on Nov. 3. (Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

President Barack Obama’s private meetings with congressional Republican leaders appeared to do very little to  break the legislative impasse that largely has defined his tenure.

Descriptions of the meeting from both ends of Pennsylvania Ave. were clinical at best. Notably missing were usual Washington declarations that a high-level meeting was “productive” or “constructive.” Asked about that omission, an aide to Speaker Paul D. Ryan, R-Wis., called the speaker’s time on Tuesday with Obama “cordial.”

And, in a fitting bit of symbolism, Ryan departed the White House for yet another House attempt to derail Obamacare. The chamber, however, failed to override a veto of a bill to repeal it.
Full story

February 1, 2016

Obama, Ryan to Lunch Tuesday at White House


President Barack Obama shakes hands with Speaker of the House Paul Ryan, R-Wis., as he arrives to deliver his final State of the Union address. (Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

President Barack Obama shakes hands with Speaker of the House Paul Ryan, R-Wis., as he arrives to deliver his final State of the Union address. (Photo by Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

The White House expects President Barack Obama and the Republican House and Senate leaders on Tuesday to discuss issues ranging from taxes to criminal justice to national security.

Obama is scheduled to meet privately with Speaker Paul D. Ryan of Wisconsin and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. Later, he and Ryan will have a one-on-one lunch meeting. It will be Obama’s first private meeting with Ryan since the 2012 GOP vice presidential nominee became speaker in late October. Full story

Is Cancer Task Force Another Placebo?


Vice President Joe Biden on Dec. 3, giving remarks in the Capitol Visitors Center. (Photo By Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

Biden is heading up Obama’s task force to fight cancer. The group will meet this week. (Photo By Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

History suggests the White House’s new high-level task force to fight cancer could prove more placebo than antidote, despite its broad bipartisan support.

The same Republicans who sat dismissively as President Barack Obama ticked off a wish list of stalwart Democratic policy desires during his final State of the Union address joined Democrats in a standing ovation when he announced he was placing Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. in charge of a new task force charged with curing cancer in 10 years.

In doing so, Obama added to a long list of such groups he has created during his presidency. But the use of presidential task forces and their big brother, the presidential commission, is as old as the office itself. Electronic searches show presidents as far back as William Howard Taft have turned to these hodgepodge, government-wide entities to get something or, in most cases, nothing done. Full story

January 29, 2016

Obama to Meet With Ryan, McConnell on Tuesday


Ryan and Obama will meet Tuesday. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Ryan and Obama will meet Tuesday. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

President Barack Obama will meet with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., and House Speaker Paul D. Ryan, R-Wis., next week to discuss legislative priorities and potential areas of common ground in 2016.

White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest informed reporters at his weekly briefing that the president would meet with the Republican leaders on Tuesday, one day after the Iowa Caucuses.

Earnest said the group would meet “to discuss legislative priorities in the coming year building on the bipartisan budget agreement that was signed into law.”

The meeting will be the first time Obama and Ryan have sat down together since Ryan was elected speaker in October. The budget agreement Earnest referred to was negotiated as Ryan’s predecessor, John A. Boehner, R-Ohio, was heading out the door. Ryan ultimately supported the agreement, but said the process of crafting it at the last-minute “stinks.”

Earnest said they have been in discussions with Ryan since the beginning of the year about setting up a meeting with the president. “It’s obviously been a busy couple of weeks,” he said, when asked why it has taken so long for Obama to sit down with the new speaker.

The president will discuss potential areas of cooperation between the White House and Congress as Obama heads into his final year in office, Earnest said. After Obama’s final State of the Union address, some Republicans appeared open to some of Obama’s priorities, particularly overhauling the criminal justice system and authorizing the use of force against the Islamic State.

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In Shift, Trump Touts ‘Great’ Relationships With Top Democrats


Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks with reporters and supporters at a rally organized by Tea Party Patriots on Capitol Hill on Sept. 9, 2015, to oppose the Iran nuclear agreement. (Photo By Al Drago/CQ Roll Call)

(Al Drago/CQ Roll Call)

GOP presidential front-runner Donald Trump is fond of calling U.S. leaders “stupid,” but he’s now trumpeting his “great” relationships with them — even name-dropping senior Democrats.

“I think that I’m going to be able to get along with Pelosi. I think I’m going to be able to — I’ve always had a good relationship with Nancy Pelosi,” Trump said this week during a television interview, referring to the House Democratic leader from San Francisco. “I always had a decent relationship with [Senate Majority Leader Harry] Reid.” Full story

January 28, 2016

Obama: ‘We Will Have a Democratic President Succeeding Me’


WASHINGTON, DC - DECEMBER 6: U.S. President Barack Obama addresses the country from the Oval Office on December 6, 2015 in Washington, DC. President Obama is addressing the terrorism threat to the United States and the recent attack in San Bernardino, California. (Photo by Saul Loeb-Pool/Getty Images)

Obama predicts a Democrat will win the White House(Photo by Saul Loeb-Pool/Getty Images)

BALTIMORE — President Barack Obama delivered a message to House Democrats gathered for their annual retreat:

“Democrats will win in November and we will have a Democratic president succeeding me,” he said on Thursday.

“The reason I can say that with confidence is because we focus on the things that matter in the lives of American people,” Obama added.

Just a few hours after Vice President Joseph R. Biden told the same audience that Democrats would reclaim a majority in the House this year, Obama used what is likely his last formal speech to the House Democratic Caucus to focus on the 2016 campaign.

“The press has been focused on debates and divisions that they can drum up within the primary and within our party,” Obama said, noting he’s not worried about Democrats staying united. “Our trajectory is clear.”

Republicans “may have some stuff to work out,” Obama added. Later, he made a remark that played into the divisions the media has highlighted.

“We’re not going to strengthen our leadership around the world by allowing politicians to insult Muslims,” Obama said in an apparent reference to Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump.

The president said Republicans have offered “some slogans,” while Democrats have actual policies that would help working families, such as raising the minimum wage, and making college more affordable.

“If we stay true to those principles,” Obama said, “our party is not just going to have a good year, America will have a  good year. And we’ll have more good years after that.”

Contact McPherson at lindseymcpherson@cqrollcall.com and follow her on Twitter at @lindsemcpherson.

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By Lindsey McPherson Posted at 10:50 p.m.
Politics

On Cancer ‘Moonshot,’ Time is Ticking for Biden


UNITED STATES - OCTOBER 20: Vice President Joe Biden participates is discussion as part of a tribute to former Vice President Walter Mondale at George Washington University's Jack Morton Auditorium, October 20 2015. The event was part of day long series of talks about policy and the vice presidency hosted by GW and the University of Minnesota's Humphrey School of Public Affairs. (Photo By Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

Biden is driving Obama’s campaign to cure cancer. (Photo By Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

Vice President Joseph R. Biden is widely seen as the engine behind the Obama administration’s “moonshot” anti-cancer push, raising questions about its fate once he leaves office next year.

The White House on Thursday took the first tangible steps in its fight against cancer, formally establishing a task force first mentioned in President Barack Obama’s State of the Union address. Biden, who will lead the task force, sounded at times bold and cautious.

“We’re on the cusp of incredible breakthroughs in both research and therapies,” Biden wrote in a Medium post. “In just the last decade or less, we’ve seen amazing advances in immunotherapy, in genomics, in virology and combination therapies.”

He vowed that his task force will “break through some of the barriers and do what we can to help speed up the progress, so that we can deliver treatments and increase access to these new approaches for millions more people.”

But even while declaring his optimism, he acknowledged the challenges ahead. He will lead a task force composed of five massive government departments and nearly 10 offices, institutes and agencies from across the sprawling — and often hard-to-wrangle — federal apparatus. He has a year left in his term and no definitive budget identified yet.

Cancer research advocates say the concerted focus on one issue could make a difference.

“If this is [Biden’s] single most important issue, he’s going to wake up every morning wanting to know what those federal agencies are doing and how the private sector and outside stakeholders could be helpful,” said Jon Retzlaff, managing director of science policy and government affairs at the American Association for Cancer Research.

“That’s going to result in additional opportunities and ideas for overcoming some of the challenges and barriers that we are facing today,” Retzlaff added. “If this is one of the top, if not the single most important priority of the administration for this year, to have leadership at that level could really change the way we’ve been approaching this whole effort until now.”

Biden, who lost his son, Beau, to cancer last year, will assemble the task force for the first time on Monday. He struck a pragmatic tone in his comments. For instance, he noted the importance of bringing drug manufacturers into the government’s fight against cancer.

Janet Marchibroda of the Bipartisan Policy Center called the formal creation of the group “a good first step.”

“So many federal agencies that play a role in prevention — or in working on a cure, or getting drugs to market faster — that pulling pulling together the agencies into one task force feels right,” Marchibroda said.

She also said it is “important” that Obama and his top aides opted to house it within the vice president’s office. “This is really a job for the executive branch,” she said. “So the vice president’s role really helps demonstrate that this is a priority.”

But  House Energy and Commerce Chairman Fred Upton, R-Mich., who supports the anti-cancer program, sounded an alarm.

“Our only concern is timing. Patients and their families can’t wait any longer,” Upton said in a statement prepared for Roll Call, issuing a warning to Biden on avoiding bureaucratic quicksand.

“Now is not the time for another task force or a long series of meetings,” Upton said. “Now is the time to act for patients to find faster cures.”

The timing of the cancer “moonshot” has raised eyebrows around Washington. After all, it was launched in the final year of an administration that has struggled to garner congressional buy-in since Republicans grabbed control of the House in 2010.

Another timing hurdle: Biden will relinquish what amounts to his role as program manager next January. And it is unclear whether the next administration will put as much emphasis on the task force’s work as Obama is during his final 12 months in office.

Still, experts and lawmakers are giving the White House high marks for pinpointing issues key to a successful anti-cancer effort.

For instance, the White House is putting a particular emphasis on, as Biden put it, “the potential to take advantage of big data and advances in supercomputing with greater data sharing.” To that end, the task group will try to promote ways to make a “treasure trove of information” spread across multiple cancer centers across the country accessible to all those doing cancer-related work.

“The data sources exist,” Marchibroda said. “The role of the government on making that data interoperable is to set standards.

“That would be huge,” she added. “I think they could get a lot done in a year” just by “figuring out where the highest-priority data is.”

Though the initiative is expected to be costly without yielding immediate results, so far it has met little political resistance.

Aides to the leaders of the congressional committees that will decide whether to dole out funds for the cancer “moonshot” program said Thursday that they are still waiting for more details from the White House.

White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest advised reporters on Thursday to “stay tuned” when asked if the administration’s fiscal 2017 budget request will seek new funding for anti-cancer work.

But, on Capitol Hill, lawmakers were quick to note medical legislation is on the move — and with bipartisan support.

Upton said the “moonshot” program’s mission “fits exactly within” that of the 21st Century Cures Act, a measure aimed at cracking the codes of many diseases. The House passed that measure, 344-77, last July.

“Let’s add the administration’s thoughts to our bill and get it enacted before the end of the year,” Upton said. “We feel like we’ve already launched the ‘moonshot.’ It’s time for a successful landing.”

“We are working … to send to the president’s desk bipartisan legislation that would safely bring lifesaving drugs and medical devices to patients more quickly,” Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee Chairman Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., said in a statement.

The White House on Thursday also issued much-anticipated guidance for the “moonshot” group, further defining its mission and members.

Obama ordered the group to “work with a wide array of executive departments and agencies that have responsibility for key issues related to basic … and clinical research, therapy development, regulation of medical products, and medical care related to cancer.”

What’s more, in a three-page guidance document Obama directed the Biden-led task force to come up with a “detailed set of findings and recommendations on a range of cancer-related issues. Specifically, he ordered the group to propose ways to improve the “prevention, early detection, treatment, and cure” of the disease, and ways to “improve patient access and care.”

The task force also has been directed to identify ways to expand access to new research, spur work on new cancer treatments, and strip away “regulatory barriers” — the latter likely will be music to the medical community and Republican lawmakers’ ears. Obama also ordered the group to spell out ways to “ensure optimal investment of federal resources” and highlight potential public-private partnerships.

Obama spelled out more details about how the group will be constructed and go about its work. It will include officials from some of the federal government’s behemoths, like the Pentagon and Department of Health and Human Services. Representatives from the National Institutes of Health, National Cancer Institute, and the White House Office of Management and Budget also will be among its members.

Christopher Hansen, the president of the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network, said Biden, who received the president’s blessing during the State of the Union address, will have an unique — but daunting — opportunity to bring all those entities together.

To that end, Biden and members of his staff has already been meeting with many of the country’s leading researchers and advocacy groups. Due to the massive snowfall that Washington struggled to recover from this week, a meeting with American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network had to be rescheduled.

“If you think of the time they have left,” Marchibroda said, “this interagency coordination piece is something that is best suited for executive branch — and, really, at the highest level like this.”

Contact Bennett at johnbennett@cqrollcall.com and follow him on Twitter at @BennettJohnT.

Contact Akin at stephanieakin@rollcall.com and follow her on Twitter at @stephanieakin.

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