- Where is Terri Lynn Land?
- Assessing Obamacare
- Incumbent Governors Fear Wipeout
- Ugly Fight Awaits Obama's Attorney General Nominee
- Assessing the Battle for the Senate
Posts in "Congressional Relations"
September 30, 2014
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:
August 22, 2014
The White House said Friday that constitutional authorities of the commander in chief trumped possible funding illegality in the transfer of five Taliban members in exchange for Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl.
“The president has the constitutional responsibility to protect the lives of Americans abroad, and specifically to protect U.S. service members,” White House spokesman Eric Schultz told reporters in Edgartown, Mass., “It’s important for everyone here to understand that the GAO report expressly does not address the lawfulness of the administration’s actions as a matter of constitutional law.”
August 15, 2014
Energy Secretary Ernest J. Moniz in a one-on-one interview Friday with CQ Roll Call signaled that any further changes to how his agency processes natural gas export applications will have to come from Congress, as the Energy Department tries to end a controversy over how the United States ships gas to nations that are not trading partners.
In addition, Moniz dismissed industry complaints that DOE has moved too slowly on export applications as “B.S.,” noting the department can’t take final action until a separate Federal Energy Regulatory Commission review is completed. Some U.S. energy companies eager to expand new overseas markets say the Obama administration is dragging its feet.
Moniz said that lawmakers will have to be the ones to make any more decisions about gas exports now that his agency has laid out its final rules on an overhaul. “Not from the administration, I don’t expect any changes to the process,” Moniz told CQ Roll Call. “Let’s see if Congress acts.” Full story
July 25, 2014
Updated 3:53 p.m. | A spokesman for Speaker John A. Boehner is dismissing Friday comments from senior White House adviser Dan Pfeiffer about the White House taking the threat of impeachment “very seriously.”
“We have a humanitarian crisis at our border, and the White House is making matters worse with inattention and mixed signals,” Boehner spokesman Michael Steel said in an email when asked about Pfeiffer’s comments. “It is telling, and sad, that a senior White House official is focused on political games, rather than helping these kids and securing the border.”
Boehner, R-Ohio, has repeatedly dismissed the idea of impeaching the president when pressed by reporters.
When asked about that, White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest also noted that Boehner had previously said Republicans wouldn’t “shut down the government over health care” either. “We did see that that happened,” Earnest noted.
Pfeiffer, at a Christian Science Monitor breakfast with reporters, was quoted by Time reacting to questions about impeachment.
“I think a lot of people in this town laugh that off. … I would not discount that possibility. I think Speaker Boehner, by going down the path of this lawsuit, has opened the door to Republicans possibly considering impeachment at some in the future. …
“I think that impeachment is a very serious thing that has been banded about by the recent Republican vice-presidential nominee and others in a very non-serious way, and no one has even made any allegation of anything that would be within six universes of what is generally considered in that space. But no, we take it very seriously and I don’t think it would be a good thing.”
While Sarah Palin has urged impeachment of the president — a fact also noted by Earnest — so far, no one in the House has pressed articles of impeachment. Any member can takes such articles straight to the House floor.
Many on both sides of the aisle believe impeaching the president would only help Democrats. Jim Acosta of CNN pushed Earnest on whether the administration talking up the prospects of impeachment was simply a fundraising ploy. (Earnest didn’t take the bait).
While Republicans have the votes to impeach the president in the House, a trial in the Senate would be certain to fail to remove the president from office.
The impeachment chatter also comes as a poll showing about one third of the country supporting impeachment — but a majority of Republicans.
July 24, 2014
House Oversight and Government Reform Chairman Darrell Issa is offering to allow top White House political adviser David Simas to testify via deposition instead of in a congressional hearing.
With Issa planning a vote Friday to reject the administration’s claim of absolute immunity from congressional subpoena for Simas if he again fails to show up to honor the subpoena, Issa’s latest offer loosely tracks previous subpoena fights between House Democrats and the George W. Bush administration.
“The Committee would be willing to postpone tomorrow’s proceeding if the White House makes the same commitments to cooperate as the Bush Administration did previously,” Issa said in a letter Thursday to White House Counsel W. Neil Eggleston.
In addition to the deposition, the White House must also commit to releasing internal documents Issa has sought about the creation of the political strategy office Simas has headed since January, and to answering subsequent questions in writing, Issa wrote. Issa said his offer must be accepted Thursday.
Issa’s letter came after Eggleston wrote him earlier Thursday, complaining that Issa had failed to make any specific allegation of wrongdoing, reasserting the White House’s claim of immunity and offering to cooperate further on providing information about the office — but not Simas.
Eggleston also noted that previous investigative efforts did not require enforcement of subpoenas of the president’s top advisers to testify at a public hearing.
That triggered Issa’s latest offer.
July 16, 2014
Updated 4:44 p.m. | House Oversight and Government Reform Chairman Darrell Issa gaveled open Wednesday morning’s hearing on the White House’s new political office without what would have been his star witness — top Obama political adviser David Simas.
The California Republican called a letter from White House Counsel W. Neil Eggleston asserting Simas is immune to subpoenas as a top White House aide “deeply disturbing.” Full story
July 15, 2014
Updated 8:49 p.m. | The White House is asserting immunity for top political adviser David Simas in defiance of a subpoena from House Oversight and Government Reform Chairman Darrell Issa.
In a letter from White House Counsel W. Neil Eggleston, the White House asserted Congress does not have the power to compel Simas to testify, in a showdown between two of the three branches of government.
Eggleston cited a new legal opinion from the Office of Legal Counsel in the Department of Justice and past precedent of presidents asserting immunity for their top advisers from congressional subpoena.
“The Executive Branch’s longstanding position, reaffirmed by numerous Administrations of both political parties, is that the President’s immediate advisers are absolutely immune from the congressional testimonial process,” the OLC wrote. “This immunity is rooted in the constitutional separation of powers, and in the immunity of the President himself from congressional compulsion to testify.”
The OLC cited precedents going back to Presidents Harry Truman and Richard Nixon of asserting executive privilege against testimony. And bother the OLC and Eggleston said Issa had not shown why, exactly, he needed Simas to testify and what questions, exactly, he needed to answer.
The feud has been brewing for months over the new political strategy office headed by Simas, culminating in a lengthy staff briefing today that Issa said failed to answer all of his questions.
Simas is director of the remade Office of Political Strategy and Outreach, which the White House contends complies with the Hatch Act limiting the political activities of civil servants.
But Issa isn’t convinced.
“The Clinton White House, Bush White House, and other administrations before them have all faced congressional oversight of political activity supported by taxpayer funds,” Issa wrote in a letter to Eggleston earlier Tuesday. ”Under this Administration, like previous Administrations, members of President Obama’s cabinet have committed violations of the Hatch Act, which draws a line between campaign and official business.” Full story
July 14, 2014
Updated 9:35 a.m. July 15 | House Oversight and Government Reform Chairman Darrell Issa is still demanding — for now — that top White House political adviser David Simas appear on Capitol Hill Wednesday, despite a plea Monday from the top White House lawyer that the subpoena be dropped.
“The subpoena for Mr. Simas’ testimony remains in effect,” Issa spokeswoman Becca Glover Watkins said in an emailed statement. “The White House has had multiple opportunities to work with Congress to date, and has neglected to do so. Chairman Issa has allowed that if the White House provided the requested information to the Committee, he would reconsider but at present Mr. Simas is still expected to appear at Wednesday’s hearing.”
In a letter to the California Republican on Monday, White House Counsel W. Neil Eggleston said that subpoenaing the testimony of the president’s top advisers has raised separation of powers concerns for multiple presidents.
“The Committee’s effort to compel Mr. Simas’s testimony threatens longstanding interests of the Executive Branch in preserving the President’s independence and autonomy and his ability to obtain candid advice and counsel to aid him in the discharge of his constitutional duties,” Eggleston wrote.
Eggleston urged Issa to drop the subpoena while offering to provide a briefing in lieu of public testimony on Tuesday. That suggests there’s a chance that the briefing could satisfy Issa. Full story
July 8, 2014
President Barack Obama may be just about done with this Congress, but there’s one thing he can’t do without — money.
Before Congress adjourns in a month for the August recess, Obama wants lawmakers to pass a supplemental spending bill dealing primarily with the child migrant crisis, while also averting a slowdown of highway projects.
But he will need a historically unproductive Congress to creak into action to do so, even as House Republicans head to the courthouse to sue the president over his executive actions.
And after the break, Congress will have to agree on a spending bill to avoid a pre-election government shutdown — with Obama pushing Congress for a host of controversial items, including $500 million for Syrian rebels, a new anti-terrorism foreign aid fund and the authority to close the military prison in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba.
The bottom line: While Obama has used his pen and phone to enact a host of administrative changes this year, he can’t pen and phone his way around Congress’ power of the purse. Full story
July 1, 2014
With President Barack Obama set to speak later in the day in front of the Key Bridge, his Transportation secretary is warning states checks will slow if Congress doesn’t patch the hole in the Highway Trust Fund soon.
In letters to state transportation officials and transit agencies, Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx sets forth protocols for managing the shortfall, which at the outset will particularly affect the states.
“As I stated in my June 19 letter, the Department will continue to take every possible measure to fully reimburse your State for as long as we can. However, as we approach insolvency, the Department will be forced to limit payments to manage the reduced levels of cash available in the Trust Fund,” Foxx wrote in the letter to state transportation departments.