Friday, January 14, 2011

CQ Roll Call Daily Briefing: Waiting for the Smoke

CQ Roll Call Daily Briefing

Friday, Jan. 14, 2011

 Today In Washington

THE HOUSE: In recess until Tuesday, when  seven hours of debate will begin on the Republicans’ proposed repeal of last year’s medical insurance overhaul. The vote on the measure will be Wednesday.

The other marquee bill on the GOP agenda next week would end the mandatory printing of so many copies of every bill and resolution — saving $25 million or more over a decade.

THE SENATE: In recess until Jan. 25, with many senators on statewide rounds of community meetings that were scheduled long before the Tucson rampage.

THE WHITE HOUSE: Obama is in an Oval Office meeting with Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari. The president also will speak at the memorial service for veteran diplomat Richard Holbrooke at the Kennedy Center this afternoon.

Biden will announce that his new chief of staff is Bruce Reed, who was staff director of the Obama fiscal commission and the top domestic policy adviser oin the Clinton White House.

A NEW FACE FOR THE GOP: Forecasting the outcome of an election for Republican Party chairman is a bit like predicting the outcome of the election of a pope: The number of highly motivated, well-informed voters is just about the same in both (168 members of the Republican National Committee, in today’s case), the rules requiring multiple ballots are similarly complicated, and the internal politics of the College of Cardinals and the RNC are comparably byzantine.

And this year, in one respect, the results of the RNC winter meeting at National Harbor will almost certainly be the same as the result of every papal conclave: The incumbent has no chance of re-election.

Yes, it seems Michael Steele has more commitments for support than any of his four rivals. But most of them are good for only the first few ballots. And, by then, RNC members will conclude that the re-election of Steele poses profound financial risks for the party, which is yoked to $20 million in debt as it begins the very expensive work of trying to win back the White House and expand its numbers in Congress next year.

The election-eve conventional wisdom (and the  backing  of former party chairman Haley Barbour and many of his fellow governors) has made  Reince Priebus, the Wisconsin GOP chairman, the front-runner — even though he was part of the Steele team that  created the party’s budget crisis.

Saul Anuzis, a former Michigan chairman, is running as the milennnial candidate, arguing the GOP is woefully behind in its use of technology and social networking. Ann Wagner of Missouri, who’s the closest of the candidates to George W. Bush, has used the hardest-hitting anti-incumbent rhetoric. And Maria Cino, a longtime party operative, says she has the management experience the GOP needs most. She also has the backing of the nation’s most prominent Republican at the moment: Boehner. It was a reception for Cino (not a fundraiser, as we wrongly reported yesterday) that the Speaker attended in lieu of the Tucson memorial service.

The winner needs to come up with 85 votes, and there’s no limit on the number of rounds of balloting, which start after lunch.

SOME HAPPY NEWS: Economic reports today show the recovery remains on an upward track with little sign of inflation.

Retail sales were almost 8 percent stronger last month than they were a year ago — and for the year rose 6.6 percent, which will help give a big boost to gross domestic product in the fourth quarter. Industrial production rose again in December, although manufacturers are still operating at less than three-quarters of capacity. Businesses stockpiled inventories at a slower pace than sales in November, implying a further pickup in production in coming months.

Meantime, the consumer price index jumped 0.5 percent in December, driven up mostly by an increase in gasoline costs. But for the year, the CPI rose just 1.5 percent — barely half the inflation rate of 2009 and tame by any standard. And the 13.8 percent rise in gasoline prices for all of 2010 was small compared with the 53.5 percent increase recorded a year earlier.

SEAT BUDDIES: Unless a surge of favorable e-mail flows into Boehner’s new in-basket — set up to receive messages nationwide, not just from his Ohio district — it looks like Republicans won’t be giving any formal endorsement to the idea of bipartisan seating at the State of the Union. But they aren’t standing in the way, either.

McConnell has been a “no comment” on the proposal so far. The Speaker’s office’s only reaction has been to point out that lawmakers are allowed to sit anywhere they want on the House floor — which some are taking as a sign that GOP members should feel free to find a new perspective on Jan. 25, and others assume is a subtle signal that the rank-and-file should not feel any pressure to stray across the aisle, even symbolically.

Reid hailed Sen. Mark Udall’s “thoughtful suggestion” as worth “serious consideration,” and he said he and McConnell planned to talk about it next week. Pelosi hasn’t offered a reaction, but Hoyer has embraced the idea, saying that “members of both parties can symbolize our common citizenship and common interests by sitting together to hear the president’s remarks.” White House spokesman Robert Gibbs called the seating concept “an interesting idea.”

Senators traditionally join House members on their customary sides of the chamber during joint sessions, Republicans to the left of the president and Democrats to his right. (The custom has its roots in the British Parliament’s seating plan.) As a gesture toward fostering more civil political discourse, Udall wants to abandon the tradition for one night — which would take away one of the State of the Union’s most recognized visuals, the comically robotic way that lawmakers from the president’s party stand and applaud, while members from the other party reflexively sit on their hands, whenever the president says something the slightest bit provocative. One thing is sure to have most of 'em clapping: his expected call for a tax-code overhaul.

BAILING OUT: Democrats are insisting with straight faces that they have a genuine pickup opportunity in Texas next year now that Kay Bailey Hutchison has finally, officially made good on the Senate departure promises she’s been making and then abandoning for the past three years.

But it’s hard to see their cause for optimism, especially because their best potential candidate — former Houston mayor Bill White, who ended up with only 42 percent in his highly touted challenge to Gov. Rick Perry last fall — has said he doesn’t want to be a senator. That makes the default Democratic nominee John Sharp, who was state comptroller in the 1990s but has since lost two bids for lieutenant governor. He’s been after the Senate seat ever since Hutchison started her on-again, off-again dance with resignation or retirement back in 2008, when she launched her primary race against Perry.

So the seat should be labeled a highly likely GOP hold. (Texas hasn’t elected a Democratic senator since Lloyd Bentsen won his final term in 1988.) And the far-and-away frontrunner is David Dewhurst, who’s lieutenant governor in the only state where that’s easily the most powerful position. (He’s also independently rich and can get his campaign off the ground before raising any money.)

Dewhurst’s only worry at this point should be Railroad Commissioner Michael Williams, a favorite of tea party activists. But Joe Barton, who just got shoved aside as Energy and Commerce chairman, may decide to give up his House seat after 14 terms so he can take another flier at the Senate (He got 14 percent in the 1993 special election that elected Hutchison.)

DOWN IN THE TRENCHES: Before the RNC voting began, Pete Sessions of Texas and his deputy Greg Walden of Oregon announced their deputies for 2012 in the House GOP campaign operation:

Vern Buchanan of Florida will be the top fundraiser, Steve Scalise of Louisiana will be the chief candidate recruiter, John Shimkus of Illinois will be in charge of incumbent retention, Lynn Westmoreland of Georgia will oversee efforts to make the best of redistricting, Diane Black of Tennessee will be in charge of communications, Ginny Foxx of  North Carolina will focus on grassroots development, Devin Nunes will work on coalition-building and fellow Californian Ed Royce will be regional coordinator.

HAPPY BIRTHDAY: Today, GOP Rep. Michael McCaul of Texas (49). On Sunday, GOP Rep. Diane Black of Tennessee (60).

SCHEDULING NOTE: Because of Monday’s federal holiday honoring the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., the next Daily Briefing will be on Tuesday.

— David Hawkings, editor

Become a Facebook fan at facebook.com/DavidHawkingsDC. Or follow me on Twitter at twitter.com/davidhawkings.

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Editor's Picks From The CQ Roll Call Newsroom

Town Halls Go On Despite Shooting (Congress.org)

In a week when Capitol Hill was still reeling from shock, many members of Congress charged ahead with their public meetings undeterred by recent events. » View full article

Rep. Lee Seeks End to Mandatory Printing of Bills (Roll Call)

The New York Republican introduced legislation Wednesday that would "eliminate the mandatory printing of bills and resolutions by the Government Printing Office for the use of the House of Representatives and Senate." http://roll.cl/14bills » View full article

House Sets Initial Hearing on Tax Overhaul (CQ Today)

Ways and Means will meet on Jan. 20 to discuss "fundamental tax reform." » View full article

Hutchison First Retirement of 2012 Cycle (Roll Call)

Texas Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst is likely the top candidate in the race to replace the long-serving senator. » View full article

You Can Now E-Mail John Boehner (Congress.org)

Members of Congress have long accepted e-mail from their constituents through web forms, but they've typically blocked people from outside their districts or states from writing. » View full article
-----

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dailybriefing@cqrollcall.com

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Thursday, January 13, 2011

CQ Roll Call Daily Briefing: For Now, a Quiet Capitol

CQ Roll Call Daily Briefing

Thursday, Jan. 13, 2011

 Today In Washington

THE HOUSE: In recess until Tuesday.

THE SENATE: In recess until Jan. 25.

THE WHITE HOUSE: Obama, who did not get back to Washington until 1:40 this morning, will meet with senior advisers in the Oval Office this afternoon but has no public events planned.

Biden, at a meeting with Iraqi leaders in Baghdad today, said the United States is committed to its troop withdrawal timetable and hailed the government’s new Cabinet — approved last month to end a nine-month post-election stalemate.

BACK TO BUSINESS: Six days (and one widely praised presidential appeal for political healing and civility) after the Tucson shootings, the capital is returning to this season’s normal political rhythm. Which is to say, the parties aren’t spending any time at all slamming one another — and that's normal for this time of year, when Republicans and Democrats alike generally try to leave the brickbats alone for at least the first few weeks of a new Congress. Instead, they’re focused on their usual, inwardly centered wintertime work: refining their message for the new year, wondering about the current state of their leadership — and worrying, as always, about their campaign bank balances.

Much of that work is being done in public for the next several days by the GOP. House members are on a retreat in Baltimore that started this morning, just as the winter meeting of the Republican National Committee got under way in Washington, with tomorrow’s election of the national party chairman atop the agenda. (Three potential 2012 presidential candidates — Newt Gingrich, Haley Barbour and Rick Perry — are addressing the House Republicans today, along with conservative economists Larry Kudlow and Arthur Laffer.)

BOEHNER’S BOBBLE: The nationwide sentiment Obama sought to capture last night — that there should be much more empathy and less anger in the public square — has probably saved Boehner from a deep wound to the reputation he’s burnished during the past week. Democrats have been hailing him as often as Republicans as a Speaker who’s been a calming influence on all of the House, but in a normal year they probably would have mounted an all-out denunciation of Boehner for turning down a ride on Air Force One and skipping the Tucson memorial service so he could make good on his promise to host an RNC cocktail party fundraiser. Instead, any criticism of his priorities for last night disappeared after only a few hours, once his office promised that Boehner would be putting down his red wine glass and leaving the fete in plenty of time to watch the president’s speech.

Despite the GOP’s return to partial power in Washington, the party sees itself in such a deep financial hole that the Speaker can ill-afford to skip a long-planned opportunity to raise big bucks from big donors. Incumbent RNC Chairman Michael Steele is in deep danger of losing his job tomorrow in large measure because of the criticism that he’s spent way too much and raised not nearly enough — decisions that threaten to put the party at a deep disadvantage in the coming year’s battles over congressional redistricting. Compounding the problem is the fact that a special group created last year to raise money for the GOP redistricting effort — chaired by Gingrich, former Senate leader Trent Lott and top lobbyist Charlie Black — has never gotten off the ground.

THE NEXT TEST: The next nationally televised opportunity for Congress to display a tone of civility will be in only a dozen days, at the State of the Union. That’s why there’s a very good chance dozens of members will take seats in the House chamber without regard to the traditionally strict division of the parties down the center aisle — with the Republicans on the west side (to Obama’s left) and the Democrats on the east.

“As the nation watches, Democrats and Republicans should reflect the interspersed character of America itself,” Democratic Sen. Mark Udall of Colorado said in proposing the idea yesterday in a letter to Hill leaders. “Perhaps, by sitting with each other for one night, we will begin to rekindle that common spark that brought us here.”

REAL ESTATE WATCH: As the trash carts, moving boxes and construction dust are cleared away on the House side of the Capitol, one of the more surprising land grabs among the new majority’s leadership has come into view. Eric Cantor has claimed a relatively small suite on the second floor, skipping the much larger collection of first floor rooms that were occupied by both Steny Hoyer and Tom Delay when they were majority leader. Cantor’s new digs afford him an amazing view down the Mall, but rank-and-file Republicans say it’s pretty clear the space was chosen for another reason: So the Virginian can keep a close eye on the office next door — the one occupied by Boehner. There’s no mystery that Cantor aspires to be the next Speaker and won’t hesitate to push for the top job if he ever concludes that the incumbent’s hold on the job is weakening.

FULL CIRCLE: Cantor’s office choice has allowed Whip Kevin McCarthy to claim the old Hoyer-Delay suite on the ground floor. And, in a curious connection to this week’s No. 1 topic, it was just outside that office that Russell Eugene Weston Jr. shot killed two Capitol Police officers in 1998 — one of the incidents that brought about the Capitol’s current security regimen.

In three separate closed-door briefings for lawmakers and aides yesterday, the people in charge of congressional security made clear they have no plans to act on their own to change that regimen in any major way. Instead, their focus was on helping senators and House members work more closely with state and local police when they are visiting their constituents.

MIX OF INDICATORS: Three sets of economic indicators were released by the government this morning. The trade deficit narrowed to $38.3 billion in November, down 0.3 percent from October to its lowest point in 10 months, Commerce said, but through the first 11 months of last year the figure is running 33.5 percent higher than 2009, when the recession put a sharp brake on imports. The Producer Price Index of wholesale prices went up 1.1 percent in December, the largest increase since last January. And the number of people seeking unemployment benefits jumped by 35,000 to a seasonally adjusted 445,000 for last week, the highest level since October.

CAJUN CODA: Edwin Edwards arrived at a Baton Rouge halfway house this morning after his release from the federal prison where he’s spent the last eight years and three months. Lousiana’s governor for four terms, he went to jail for a bribery and extortion scheme to rig the state’s riverboat casino licensing process during his final years in office. The 83-year-old Democrat is to live at the halfway house until July.

QUOTE OF NOTE: “And then she reaches out and starts grabbing Mark and is touching him and starts to nearly choke him — she was clearly trying to hug him — and we were just in tears of joy watching this and beyond ourselves, honestly,” Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand told reporters aboard Air Force One last night, describing the scene yesterday as Rep. Gabby Giffords opened her eyes and saw her husband for the first time since she was shot. (Pelosi and Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz were also in the hospital room.) “And then Mark said, you know, ‘touch my ring, touch my ring.’ And she touches his ring and then she grabs his whole watch and wrist. And then the doctor was just so excited. He said, ‘You don’t understand, this is amazing, what’s she’s doing right now, and beyond our greatest hopes.’ ”

CORRECTION: We misspelled a congressman’s middle name yesterday. It’s Nick Joe Rahall.

— David Hawkings, editor

Become a Facebook fan at facebook.com/DavidHawkingsDC. Or follow me on Twitter at twitter.com/davidhawkings.

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Editor's Picks From The CQ Roll Call Newsroom

Redistricting Efforts Bankrupt for 2011? (Roll Call)

Republicans are in danger of entering the next stage of redistricting at a financial disadvantage thanks to a cash-strapped RNC and an outside group that never got off the ground. » View full article

With Tide Turned, New Goals for RNC Election (Roll Call)

Two years ago, the party was coming off two brutal election cycles and looking for a road map out of the political wilderness. The circumstances have changed heading into 2012. » View full article

Members Urged to Tighten Security Back Home (CQ Today)

The sergeants at arms in each chamber told lawmakers to assign liaisons responsible for developing and maintaining closer relations with local authorities who can investigate complaints and provide security at public events. » View full article

Business Welcomes an Ally in White House (Roll Call)

The former bank executive as a kindred spirit who at least will give business issues a fair airing in the White House. » View full article

Don Young Gets His Groove Back (CQ Weekly)

Young, who lowered his profile during the 111th Congress, will chair the newly revived House Natural Resources Subcommittee on Indian and Alaska Native Affairs, which he sees as an opportunity to dive into the issues he loves. » View full article

Tension Brews as Tea Party Goes Pro (Congress.org)

With a staff of eight and a professional public relations team, the tea party's largest coalition group is taking on a more traditional advocacy role. Will the grassroots go along? » View full article
-----

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David Hawkings
dailybriefing@cqrollcall.com

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Wednesday, January 12, 2011

CQ Roll Call Daily Briefing: Boehner, Institutionalist

CQ Roll Call Daily Briefing

Wednesday, Jan. 12, 2011

 Today In Washington

THE WHITE HOUSE: After a meeting with Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri, Obama will leave for Tucson. His speech, his most important yet in his presidential role of empathizer-in-chief, will be sometime after the 8 o’clock start (Eastern time) of the memorial service at the University of Arizona. Others attending will include the first lady, Supreme Court Justice Kennedy, Attorney General Holder and Homeland Secretary Napolitano (a former Arizona governor).

THE HOUSE: Convened at 10 to debate a resolution that pays tribute to the six killed and 14 injured in Saturday’s shootings and “reaffirms the bedrock principle of American democracy and representative government” — memorialized in the First Amendment’s protection of “the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.” The measure also declares that the House “stands firm in its belief in a democracy in which all can participate and in which intimidation and threats of violence cannot silence the voices of any American.”

A bipartisan prayer service will be held between 12:30 and 2 in the Capitol Visitor Center, and the House will be in recess for that.

Sergeant at Arms Bill Livingood and FBI agents briefed Republicans on security at their weekly caucus this morning, but a similar session for Democrats has not been arranged.

THE SENATE: In recess until Jan. 25. Sergeant at Arms Terrance Gainer will hold a closed-door bipartisan security briefing for aides and senators at 1.

BOEHNER’S BALANCING ACT: The Speaker gave the opening speech about the tribute resolution, his voice breaking most noticeably when he described the late Gabe Zimmerman — who was Giffords’ community outreach director — as “a public servant of the highest caliber.” Boehner said to the thousands of congressional aides watching on TV: “To all the dedicated professionals that we rely on to make this institution work, to each of you, thank you for what you do.”

The speech was the latest event in Boehner’s personally and politically complicated week of see-sawing between his new role as the nonpartisan principal voice of the House as an institution, and his continuing role as the leader of the chamber’s Republicans.

That latter role is also forcing him today into the uncomfortable position of coming out squarely against the first high-profile legislative proposal from one of his new committee chairman. Boehner has served notice he won’t support a measure, unveiled yesterday by Homeland Security Chairman Pete King and Mayor Mike Bloomberg of New York, that would make it a crime to carry a weapon within 1,000 feet of a member of Congress.

SECURITY WORRIES: With prospects evaporating for any gun control legislation that might make community meetings a bit safer, congressional aides, lawmakers and their families — the freshmen, in particular — continue to grapple with how to improve their security without compromising easy interaction with their constituents. A push to formalize relations between the Capitol Police and state and local law enforcement agencies — which have no obligation to give lawmakers any more security than they give others — is looming as the most important outcome.

Republicans seem solidly opposed to any quick move that would require new spending, but they're open to the idea of writing some additional line-items into an appropriations bill later in the year — after the public’s memory has faded about how the new GOP majority, with much fiscally prudent fanfare, imposed a 5 percent cut on the House’s budget just days before the shootings.

THE PROGNOSIS: University Medical Center’s daily briefing on Rep. Gabby Giffords begins at noon. While one of her doctors said yesterday that she has a “101 percent chance of surviving,” her medical team continues to emphasize that her recovery will be long and complicated and that it’s way too early to say how much of her old physical life the congresswoman will be able to reclaim eventually.

WHAT PALIN SAYS: Sarah Palin is expressing sadness over the shootings, but in an 8-minute video posted on her Facebook page this morning she offered no apology for her “don’t retreat, instead reload” 2010 campaign rhetoric or the map her political organization drew last fall with marksmans’ marks over 20 congressional districts — Arizona’s 8th, most infamously.

“There are those who claim political rhetoric is to blame for the despicable act of this deranged, apparently apolitical criminal,” the 2008 GOP vice presidential candidate  said about Giffords’ alleged would-be assassin, Jared Loughner. “And they claim political debate has somehow gotten more heated just recently. But when was it less heated? Back in those ‘calm days’ when political figures literally settled their differences with dueling pistols?”

“Acts of monstrous criminality stand on their own. They begin and end with the criminals who commit them, not collectively with all the citizens of a state, not with those who listen to talk radio, not with maps of swing districts used by both sides of the aisle,” she declared. “Journalists and pundits should not manufacture a blood libel that serves only to incite the very hatred and violence they purport to condemn. That is reprehensible.”

Bulls’-eye, gun sight or “surveyor’s mark” — as a Palin aide described the symbol earlier  in the week — SarahPAC proved remarkably adept at identifying ripe targets. Giffords and Nick Jo Rahall of West Virginia were the only two Democrats on the hit list who won re-election. Fourteen of the incumbents on whom she’d set her sights were defeated, and all four departing Democrats on the list saw their open seats flip to the GOP. (The lawmakers were chosen mainly because they were in tight races and had voted for the health care overhaul.)

Sharon Angle, who during her Senate campaign in Nevada last year advocated "Second Amendment remedies" to rein in Congress, struck a similar tone in her own Facebook posting today. “Expanding the context of the attack to blame and to infringe upon the people’s constitutional liberties is both dangerous and ignorant," she said. "The irresponsible assignment of blame to me, Sarah Palin or the tea party movement by commentators and elected officials puts all who gather to redress grievances in danger.”

WHAT THE PEOPLE SAY: In a CBS poll taken in the two days after the shooting and released today, 57 percent said they believed the coarse tone of political discourse had nothing to do with the incident  and 32 percent felt it did. For Republicans, the numbers were much more skewed: 69 percent said rhetoric was not to blame and 19 percent said it played a part. The margin was closer for Democrats: 49 percent see no connection but 42 percent do.

THE BIGGER PICTURE: In another poll, out this morning from the Associated Press, 48 percent declared some degree of optimism (and 52 percent some level of pessimism) when asked if Obama and congressional Republicans will be able to work together this year. That’s better than when the AP last asked the question, right after the election, when the numbers were 41 percent optimistic, 58 percent not.

The overall impression of Congress is 69 percent unfavorable. But Democrats are viewed 53 percent favorably, 45 percent unfavorably, while the views of the GOP were evenly split at 48 percent.

Still, 56 percent say they are confident that Republicans will help improve the economy, although only 51 percent believe the party will be able to make good on its campaign promises. Public opinion of Boehner was divided three ways, almost evenly: 34 percent view him positively, 31 percent negatively and the other 35 percent without an opinion yet.

HAPPY BIRTHDAY: Democratic Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee of Texas (61).

— David Hawkings, editor

Become a Facebook fan at facebook.com/DavidHawkingsDC. Or follow me on Twitter at twitter.com/davidhawkings.

-----

Editor's Picks From The CQ Roll Call Newsroom

Tucson speech offers fresh start for Obama (Roll Call)

It's a narrow window of opportunity to prove he is the consensus-maker he promised to be. » View full article

Freshmen, families are facing new fears (Roll Call)

Balancing duty, security and family can be an unfamiliar experience for the newest lawmakers. » View full article

Boehner Seeks to Resume Legislative Agenda (CQ Today)

The challenge for the Speaker will be to conduct the House's business — and the contentiousness that comes with it — while avoiding the appearance of callousness as Giffords continues a long recovery. » View full article

Republican Proposes Gun-Free Zone Around Officials (CQ Today)

Peter King's measure would make it a crime to carry a gun within 1,000 feet of the president, vice president, members of Congress or federal judges. » View full article

John Cranford's Political Economy: Budget 101 (CQ Weekly)

In the end, the nation's budget puzzle comes down to the math — and the math doesn't work the way many newcomers would like. » View full article

Protest Marks Guantanamo Anniversary (Congress.org)

Activists struck a defiant tone at an annual protest for closing the Guantanamo detention center, which remains open despite an executive order Obama signed two years ago. » View full article
-----

Contact The Editor

David Hawkings
dailybriefing@cqrollcall.com

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Tuesday, January 11, 2011

CQ Roll Call Daily Briefing: Post-Op Optics

CQ Roll Call Daily Briefing

Tuesday, Jan. 11, 2011

 Today In Washington

WHITE HOUSE: Obama is working on the speech he will make tomorrow night at a memorial service in the University of Arizona’s basketball arena for the six people who died and the 13 injured in the Tucson shootings. He has no public events planned, having canceled a visit to Schenectady, N.Y., after Saturday’s melee.

HOUSE: Convenes at 2 for a pro forma session, mainly speeches about the shootings.

SENATE: In recess until Jan. 25.

POST-OP, IN ARIZONA: This is the third day since Rep. Gabby Giffords was shot, which every neurosurgeon will tell you is the start of a critical period that will last about a week: the time when brain swelling is the most threatening to someone who has undergone surgery for a traumatic head injury. Giffords remains in critical but stable condition in the University Medical Center ICU, and her doctors say she continues to respond to simple commands  — including giving a thumbs-up sign and tugging at her breathing tube yesterday.

POST-OP, AT THE CAPITOL: The third day since the attempted assassination is also being marked by some increasing heat and light at the end of the nationwide zone of somber, quiet and studiously nonpartisan public discourse.

The return of a Congress behaving somewhat close to normal — with ideological distinctions portrayed by lawmakers in emphatic if not quite furious tones — is no more than a week away. That’s when House Republicans say they’ll resume debate on their bill to repeal last year’s medical insurance overhaul. And they will keep the phrase “job-killing” in its official title, essentially laughing off a suggestion by Maine Democrat Chellie Pingree that the phrase might be dropped a symbolic first step to limiting violent imagery in legislative rhetoric.

The vituperative rhetoric of talk radio and cable TV is already filling the airwaves again, with talking heads on both the left and right blaming each other for politicizing the tragedy — and grasping for ways to link the other side’s ideological shortcomings to the killings. (No matter that  alleged shooter Jared Loughner has left behind such a jumble of evidence about his confused world view that it will be impossible to understand his motives — and be sure if they’re even connected somehow to mainstream liberalism or conservatism — unless he decides to break his post-arrest silence.)

One of the few things both sides appear to agree on is that the southeastern corner of Arizona — where Giffords had won three terms by cultivating a centrist record — has a political culture characterized by a cranky individualism much more than either party’s reflexive positioning.

DELAYED FLASH POINTS: By the time the Senate reconvenes in two weeks, both Reid and Boehner will likely have concluded they have little choice but to slow-walk legislation being pushed as an antidote to further violence — most prominently, the gun control measure by New York Democrat Carolyn McCarthy in the House and New Jersey Democrat Frank Lautenberg in the Senate. It would ban the sort of high-capacity ammunition clip that was attached to the Glock 19 used in the  Giffords shooting. But the National Rifle Association and its allies will have more than enough support to keep such a measure off either floor by returning to its bedrock argument that people, not guns, kill people.

SLOW WALKING SECURITY: Tomorrow’s health care debate has now been replaced in the House with a voice vote on a bipartisan resolution paying tribute to Saturday’s victims, offering condolences to their families and commending those who stopped the shooting and aided the injured.

There will also be back-to-back briefings for lawmakers and aides worried about their own security by House Sergeant-at-Arms Bill Livingood and his Senate counterpart, Terrance Gainer, who has provided the most tangible numbers yet on the growing number of threats on Congress. Yesterday — when it was revealed that a Colorado man had been arrested last week after allegedly threatening to shoot aides to  Democratic Sen. Michael Bennet — Gainer said that was at least the fifth credible threat on a senator or a staff member this year. He pegged that number at 49 for all of 2010, which he said was an increase from about 30 in both of the previous two years.

Those briefings are expected to emphasize the need for lawmakers and aides to take prudent, common-sense steps to improve their own security, and then not hesitate to ask the Capitol Police for help. There will be a tacit acknowledgement that congressional security can’t be increased much more without big federal expense, a new “unfunded mandate” on state troopers and local police or a tangible and politically problematic raising of the barriers between elected officials and their constituents.

The fear of those “bad optics” is a main reason why Jim Clyburn, the assistant House minority leader, is unlikely to get one of his main wishes for tighter security — permission for lawmakers to be whisked past all airport security checkpoints.

SPINNING: Byron Dorgan and Bob Bennett have joined Kit Bond in moving  most quickly through the senatorial revolving door. Just a week after leaving office, the North Dakota Democrat and Utah Republican have signed on with the Washington law and lobbying powerhouse Arent Fox. (Thompson Coburn announced the day after Bond’s retirement took effect that the Missouri Republican would become a rainmaking partner shuttling between the D.C. and St. Louis offices.)

But the required no-outright-arm-twisting cooling-off period for the three is off to an especially cool start: K Street has essentially shut down this week’s blizzard of welcome-back receptions and freshman fundraisers as a reaction to the events in Tucson.

The advocacy world’s relative quiet afforded a wide publicity opening for Tom Donohue’s annual “State of American Business” address this morning. “While the recovery may be picking up steam, it is fragile and uneven,” said the U.S. Chamber of Commerce CEO, who called for a recipe of federal regulatory restraint, global trade liberalization and public works spending to promote job creation.

QUOTE OF NOTE: “I can’t be remorseful for something I don’t think I did,” Tom DeLay told Judge Pat Priest yesterday, just before the judge imposed a three-year sentence for his money laundering conviction. So long as he lives up to the terms of the $10,000 bail he posted, though, the former House GOP leader won’t go to jail unless all his appeals are exhausted unsuccesfully.

HAPPY BIRTHDAY: Republican Rep. Mike Turner of Ohio (51).

— David Hawkings, editor

Become a Facebook fan at facebook.com/DavidHawkingsDC. Or follow me on Twitter at twitter.com/davidhawkings.

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Editor's Picks From The CQ Roll Call Newsroom

Hill Somber, Though Many Doubt Lasting Shift in Tone (CQ Today)

Saturday's shootings have cast a shadow over the political world, but lawmakers might not be shifting their approach to even the most divisive issues before Congress. » View full article

On the Air, Nothing Has Changed (Roll Call)

The nation and the Hill reflected soberly on the Tucson tragedy, but on the airwaves and among left- and right-leaning activists, there was no cease-fire. » View full article

Shootings Upend K Street, Fundraising Calendar (Roll Call)

Washington's political and lobbying scene, ordinarily abuzz with activity this time of year, paused in response to the shootings. » View full article

Security Debate Hits Home for Lawmakers (Roll Call)

Three days after the shootings, some members are calling for legislative remedies, while others are amending their own behavior to ensure security when meeting with constituents. » View full article

Motive Puts Giffords Case Outside Homeland Security Realm (CQ Homeland Security)

Experts say although Saturday's shooting targeted a U.S. official, it doesn't fall into the category of "homeland security" -- but there are still a number of lessons that security agencies can learn from it. » View full article

Politics of an Arizona Crime Scene: Guns and Borders (Roll Call)

The backdrop for Saturday's shooting is the politics of a state and region that political consultants there describe as a "cranky libertarianism." » View full article

Gun Debate Heads to Hill (Congress.org)

Shots fired in Arizona may be heard on Capitol Hill for months as activists reignite the debate over guns. » View full article
-----

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dailybriefing@cqrollcall.com

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Monday, January 10, 2011

CQ Roll Call Daily Briefing: A Moment of Silence

CQ Roll Call Daily Briefing

Monday, Jan. 10, 2011

 Today In Washington

WHITE HOUSE: Barack and Michelle Obama stood on the South Lawn at 11 to observe a national moment of silence to honor victims of Saturday’s shooting in Tucson, which also drew several hundred people to the east steps of the Capitol. (The president has also ordered American flags on all federal buildings nationwide, on embassies abroad and on naval ships worldwide lowered to half staff until Friday evening.)

Obama  is spending much of the afternoon with French President Nicolas Sarkozy of France, including a news conference starting before 1.

Biden is on an unannounced trip to Afghanistan. He is scheduled to meet with President Hamid Karzai, greet the troops and visit an Afghan army training camp. 

THE HOUSE: In recess until a pro forma session at noon tomorrow.

THE SENATE: In recess until Jan. 25.

HEIGHTENED ANXIETY: The palpable sense of concern about security that has swept across Capitol Hill was racheted up another notch this morning, when the Capitol Police closed the South Capitol Metro station after discovering a suspicious package and clamped down sharply on pedestrian movements on the House side. (It turned out to be a false alarm.)

Inside the Capitol, many members and their aides were re-familiarizing themselves with the panic buttons that were installed in member offices and at receptionists’ desks about decade ago. Many lawmakers are also just getting around to telling the sergeant-at-arms and the leadership their most basic emergency contact information, including their home addresses, personal phone numbers and e-mail addresses. In the security conference call that drew almost 800 members, spouses and aides yesterday afternoon, GOP leaders said about 10 percent of House members had not provided such information, which would of course make protecting them much more difficult in a widespread emergency.

House leaders of both parties quickly concluded on Saturday that canceling the scheduled legislative agenda for this week — with a bill to repeal the health care overhaul law the marquee item — made sense for several reasons: It allows lawmakers to spend the time in their districts, soothing the fears of aides back home, contemplating additional security measures for their field offices and perhaps conducting meetings with constituents in an effort to strike a business-as-usual, we-will-not be-afraid posture. And at the same time, the postponements should guarantee that both sides have at least a week to practice the less-harsh rhetorical tones that Republicans and Democrats alike are promising to try to sustain.

Actual attacks on members of Congress remain extremely rare: The last member killed in office was Rep. Leo Ryan, a California Democrat murdered 32 years ago in the events directly preceding the Jonestown Massacre in Guyana. But an enormous number of lawmakers have faced seemingly credible threats from constituents at one time or another, cases that are almost always handled far behind the scenes by the Capitol cops. The Capitol itself was the scene of a shooting by a mentally disturbed person that left two Capitol Police officers dead in 1998, and three years later the Sept. 11 attacks spurred construction of the Capitol Visitor Center at least in part to create much more tightly coordinated (and therefore limited) access by the public.

Despite all that, congressional security remains purposefully porous to a large extent. That’s because it is a political imperative for lawmakers to appear as though they remain accessible to the voters — and and because, to be fair, many politicans choose their careers because they genuinely want to participate in the give-and-take of representative democracy and really want to hear their complaints of their constituents in front of the grocery store on a weekend morning. And so lawmakers have rejected the idea of building a wrought-iron fence around the Capitol grounds or installing bulletproof glass walls in the congressional visitors’ galleries — first proposed after Puerto Rican nationalists opened fire onto the House floor in 1954. And,back home, members have often been ridiculed whenever they’ve called on the services of the local police (who have no formal jurisdiction to protect members any more than they protect the average citizen) to appear at constituent meetings like those that characterized the early health care debate two summers ago. Rope lines at events, or bodyguards for the rank-and-file in the airports or at community meetings, are likely to be rejected after the current anxiety starts to wear off.

Wednesday’s bipartisan security briefing is now the main event for House members in town for the week. But any move to spend more on protection will run into one fresh reality: The House just last week voted to cut 5 percent, or $35 million, from its operating budget for this year.

DIMMED RHETORIC: Boehner, who led yesterday’s conference call, declared that the shooting should serve as an impetus for Congress to "lock arms" in unity. "Frankly, we need to rally around each other," he declared. "At a time when an individual has shown us humanity at its worst, we must rise to the occasion for our nation and show Congress at its best."

Off the call, lawmakers promised one another that they would work to modify the recent vitriol that has surrounded two of the issues where Giffords had drawn so much attention back home: The health care law (she voted for it) and the notion of overhauling the immigration system.

THE FIRST TWO BILLS: Two proposals by House Democrats are getting the bulk of the early attention as possible legislative responses to the Tucson rampage.

Long Island’s Carolyn McCarthy is drafting a narrow gun control measure designed to curb the availability of the sort of high-capacity ammunition clip that Jared Loughner allegedly had attached to his pistol. And Philadelphia’s Bob Brady has readied a measure making it a federal crime to use language or symbols that could be perceived as threatening or inciting violence against a member of Congress — essentially expanding to cover lawmakers a law already on the books to cover a broad range of threats on the president. Brady says he was motivated in part by a campaign website affiliated with Sarah Palin that used cross hair symbols to mark the districts of 20 Democrats being targeted for defeat last fall — Gabby Giffords among them.

LURKING IN THE CORNER: While overt political posturing at the Capitol has essentially been put on hold for a week, it’s clear that — once Congress returns to something close to normal — one of the big stories will be how far the House’s centrists Democrats will go to seek alliances with the new Republican majority. Leaders of the Blue Dog coalition — the House’s most fiscally conservative Democrats and the group that helped Heath Shuler get 11 votes for Speaker last week — say their protests have so far led to no rapprochement whatsoever with Pelosi, and that their patience is wearing thin fast. (Gabby Giffords is a member of the Blue Dogs but did not vote for Shuler last week; she cast her ballot for Atlanta’s John Lewis.)

A CODA TO ANOTHER ERA: Tom DeLay’s sentencing hearing opened  in Austin this morning, but Judge Pat Priest isn’t likely to impose his punishment before a parade of witnesses for both sides finishes  tomorrow afternoon. The former House majority leader was convicted of money laundering and conspiracy last November in a scheme to funnel illegal corporate money to Texas legislative candidates in 2002 — part of his successful effort to redraw the state’s congressional map and boost the number of reliably Republican seats. Life in prison is the maximum punishment in the state for money laundering, but the judge has total discretion and DeLay is pushing hard for probation only.

SEVEN CELEBRANTS: There are more  congressional birthdays today than any other day this year. The senators thanking their mothers are Democrat Mark Pryor of Arkansas (48) and Republican Roy Blunt of Missouri (61). In the House, the celebrants are Democrats Chris Van Hollen of Maryland (52), Lois Capps of California (73) and Leonard Boswell of Iowa (77), plus Republicans Bill Shuster of Pennsylvania (50) and Greg Walden of Oregon (54).

— David Hawkings, editor

Become a Facebook fan at facebook.com/DavidHawkingsDC. Or follow me on Twitter at twitter.com/davidhawkings.

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Editor's Picks From The CQ Roll Call Newsroom

Partisanship Stalls in Wake of Tragedy (Roll Call)

Like the terrorist attacks nearly a decade ago, the congressional response to the Arizona shootings has largely transcended party affiliation: Members universally condemned the tragedy, put their work on hold and called for a new tone in Washington. » View full article

Immigration a Caustic Backdrop in Giffords Shooting (CQ Today)

Advocates on the immigration issue have called for tamping down the rhetoric in the wake of the shootings in Arizona. » View full article

Health Care Rhetoric May Be More Subdued When Debate Resumes (CQ Today)

The debate over the health care overhaul may be less harsh in the wake of Saturday's shootings, but opponents say their passion has not cooled. » View full article

Members' Security Gets Renewed Focus (Roll Call)

While security at the Capitol complex is not expected to change dramatically, the attempted assassination of Giffords has generated a larger discussion about the level of security that lawmakers should have when they're not in Washington. » View full article

Profile of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (CQ Politics in America)

Giffords is a fiscally conservative member of Congress who allied with the Obama administration's economic initiatives and has worked on immigration, alternative energy and Latin American relations. » View full article

Zimmerman's Passions Were History, Helping Others (Roll Call)

Friends and colleagues remembered Gabe Zimmerman, the 30-year-old congressional aide killed Saturday in Tucson, as a friendly, intellectually curious person whose passion in life was helping others. » View full article

Bitter Blue Dogs Ready to Cut Deals (Roll Call)

Blue Dog Democrats remain deeply frustrated with Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi's leadership and are signaling they are ready to break ranks and cut deals with Republicans. » View full article
-----

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David Hawkings
dailybriefing@cqrollcall.com

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