Friday, June 15, 2012

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CQ Roll Call Daily Briefing

Friday, June 15, 2012

Today In Washington

THE WHITE HOUSE: Obama will be in the Rose Garden at 1:15 to explain his decision to stop deporting (and begin granting work permits to) young illegal immigrants who arrived as children and have led law-abiding lives since. The Homeland Security Department announced the election year upheaval in immigration policy this morning — effectively imposing, by executive order, much of the Dream Act that has been blocked by congressional Republicans.

The president will have lunch at a local restaurant (its identity under wraps until the motorcade rolls in a few minutes) with the latest winners of a lottery for $3 campaign donors. After he hosts an LGBT Pride Month reception in the East Room, the first family will take off at 6 to spend the weekend back home in Chicago; they’ll all be at tomorrow’s wedding of Valerie Jarrett’s daughter.

THE CHALLENGER: Romney is at the farm in Stratham, N.H., where announced his presidential campaign — the first leg in a five-day, 14-bus-stop tour through the rural reaches of six swing states (New Hampshire, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan Wisconsin and Ohio) that’s also serving as a tryout tour for four potential running mates. Kelly Ayotte is on the bus today, Tim Pawlenty will be tomorrow, Rob Portman is the home-state host on Sunday (when Romney will have a burger lunch with Boehner) and Paul Ryan is taking Romney to his home in Janesville on Monday.

THE HOUSE: Convened at 10 for a two-minute pro forma; the next legislative session is at 2 on Monday.

THE SENATE: Not in session; next convenes at 3 on Monday.

ONE FOR NOVEMBER: Today’s surprise immigration announcement ensures the issue will be in the top ranks of defining differences in the presidential campaign — and essentially guarantees Obama will rack up a larger share of the Hispanic vote than any other presidential candidate in history. It also represents the most important moment yet in the president’s “we can’t wait” crusade to impose his policies when Congress decides not to endorse them.

Hispanic groups — who have been clamoring for Obama to call off the deportations of as many as 800,000 illegals, on his own authority, ever since the Dream Act was first rejected — are ecstatic at the move and can be counted on energize their supporters in all the swing states with big blocs of Latino voters: not only Florida, New Mexico, Nevada and Colorado but, to a lesser extent, North Carolina and Michigan. (Obama already was leading Romney among Hispanic voters, 61 percent to 27 percent, in the most recent poll.)

And many Republicans can be counted on to use the announcement to stir up their own base of support in the conservative precincts of the swing states. House Judiciary Chairman Lamar Smith derided Obama’s move as “a breach of faith with the American people” that “blatantly ignores the rule of law” and also would worsen the unemployment rate for people in the country legally. But that approach will be countermanded somewhat by the reality that Marco Rubio — perhaps the most popular potential Romney running mate among social conservatives — has made legislation similar to what Obama announced a centerpiece of his legislative program as a freshman Florida senator.

Under the details released by Secretary Janet Napolitano, illegal immigrants younger than 30 will be immune from deportation if they came to the United states when they were younger than 16, have been in the U.S. at least five years, have no criminal history and have graduated from high school or are in the military. They may also apply for indefinitely renewable two-year work permits — but they will not be on any path toward citizenship, which the congressional Dream Act would establish.

DEALS AND DOCS: Eric Holder and Darrell Issa will meet Monday, with both their camps expecting they’ll reach a deal that puts an end to the contempt of Congress proceedings that would not only sully the attorney general’s reputation but frustrate a Republican high command that would rather keep the attention on the economy.

Holder made an offer yesterday that sure sounds too good for the Oversight and Government Reform chairman to pass up — and Boehner and Cantor, who reluctantly got behind the contempt movement only this week, are sure to pressure their chairman to accept well before Wednesday’s scheduled committee vote. Holder said he was ready to give up internal documents revealing the Justice department’s deliberations over Fast and Furious — including what to tell Congress about the ill-fated decision of federal agents in Arizona to allow hundreds of weapons to get into the hands of Mexican drug runners. (The attorney general’s position, so far, has been that those records were privileged and not covered by the House’s subpoena.) When the travails of the operation were first revealed, Justice denied outright that there had been any “gun-walking” — the practice, which is explicitly against government policy, of not intercepting illicitly purchased weapons so that they might instead blaze a trail to the bad guys. Issa (and Chuck Grassley in the Senate) are at least as annoyed about being misled on that score as they are about the gun-walking itself — and Holder thought to calm that piece of the fury in his offer letter yesterday. “Evidence came to light that was inconsistent with the initial denials provided,” he conceded.

What’s likely to happen over the weekend is that Issa’s staff will be allowed to get a better idea of what Justice is willing to turn over, and then will recommend the chairman announce he’s “postponing” the Wednesday vote while the materials are being studied — with the idea that it will never be rescheduled.

SOUTHERN STRATEGY: Look for a deal to be announced at the start of next week that sets the timetable for passage of the Senate’s farm bill a few days afterward — probably without the need for any vote to break a filibuster.

Agriculture Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow and her panel’s top Republican, Pat Roberts (along with Reid and McConnell) are close to settling on a roster of between two dozen and 40 amendments that would get debated — and disposed of in an old-fashioned senatorial vote-a-rama (or maybe two of them) before passage of the $969 billion, five-year rewrite of crop subsidy and domestic food-aid programs. Reid has conceded that in order to get the bill done he will have to capitulate to GOP demands that at least some of the amendments be election-season-driven policy riders wholly disconnected from agriculture policy. (The negotiations are centered on holding the roster down, but it’s bound to include a proposal to cut off aid to Pakistan.)

The range of germane proposals is enormous — and many are as enormously entertaining-sounding as they are important to various niche players in the business of feeding the nation and much of the world. John Kerry and John McCain, for example, will get a vote on their effort to do away with the federal catfish inspection program, which was created four years ago as a way to curb faux-catfish imports from South Asia but has never been implemented. McCain also wants to delete language in the bill that would make popcorn farmers eligible for a new type of subsidy. But the main event will be an effort by Southern senators to maintain a central tenet of the current crop subsidy system — the so-called countercyclical program, which pays farmers when prices fall below target prices. (Rice growers are the big beneficiaries.) The Southerners don’t have the votes to stop the bill if they don’t get their way; instead, their argument is that hanging on to countercyclical payments would create a lopsided vote for Senate passage, which would in turn pressure the House to go along.

JUNE SWOON? Back-channel negotiations on the highway bill are stretching into the weekend, with all sides keenly aware that they have only until the end of next week to knot up all the details on any deal — otherwise the deadline for another (the 10th) stopgap extension will be at hand, and talks on a long-term measure will be put off until after the election. House Transportation Chairman John Mica told all the other GOP conferees yesterday that they should not walk away just yet, but he made clear that he and the Senate Democrats remain far apart on several matters — including whether to streamline the environmental-review process for road and mass transit projects, and whether to curb the funding stream for highway enhancements such as landscaping and bike paths.

TRAIL TIPS: (Wisconsin) Tommy Thompson would defeat Tammy Baldwin by 16 percentage points (52 to 36 percent) if the state’s open-Senate-seat election was held now, according to a poll out today from Rasmussen Reports. The firm hasn’t always been known for the best methodology or accuracy, but its new survey will buttress the notion that the former HHS secretary and 14-year governor represents the Republicans clearest hope for picking up the seat Herb Kohl is vacating. The survey shows Madison’s Democratic congresswoman in a statistical dead heat against the other GOP candidates, all of whom are running to Thompson’s right in the Aug. 14 primary: state House Speaker Jeff Fitzgerald, former Rep. Mark Neumann and businessman Eric Hovde.

(New York) Michael Grimm’s latest FEC reports shows he raised only $143,000 this spring while his campaign paid more than twice as much to Patton Boggs, the law firm that is helping him deal with an FBI investigation into his fundraising practices during his initial run for the House two years ago. The freshman congressman remains the solid, if not quite safe, bet for re-election in the Staten Island district, though, because there has been minimal enthusiasm or fundraising so far for Democratic challenger Mark Murphy, a former aide to the New York City public advocate and the son of a former congressman.

HAPPY BIRTHDAY: House Democrats Rick Larsen and Adam Smith of Washington — the only members from the same state and the same party born on the same date (June 15, 1965) — and GOP Gov. Bob McDonnell of Virginia (58).

— David Hawkings, editor

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

More congressional campaign coverage is on Roll Call’s At the Races politics blog.

Copyright 2012 CQ Roll Call Inc. All rights reserved | Privacy Policy

Thursday, June 14, 2012

CQ Roll Call Daily Briefing: The Camera Sees All

CQ Roll Call Daily Briefing

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Today In Washington

THE WHITE HOUSE: Air Force One is about to take off for Cleveland, where at 1:45 Obama will deliver a new and heavily touted speech describing his economic vision for the next four years. Aides say the address will be notable more for its sharp campaign rhetoric than for any changes in his proposals for job creation, tax hikes for the wealthy and investments in education, energy, scientific research and public works. (Romney will be enunciating his alternative economic approach — cutting spending, regulation and taxes to help businesses, building the Keystone pipeline, starting over on health care — starting 5 minutes later at a rally in Cincinnati; it’s the first time the presidential rivals have been in the same swing state on the same day.)

Three hours after leaving the Cuyahoga Community College campus, the president will arrive at Ground Zero to tour the reconstruction efforts; his tour guides will be Mayor Mike Bloomberg and Gov. Andy Cuomo. Obama then heads to the West Village and a $40,000-a-plate dinner in the townhouse of Sarah Jessica Parker and Matthew Broderick. He’s due to speak at 10 a fundraising gala at the Plaza (the headliner is Mariah Carey) and is due back in the family quarters three hours after that.

THE SENATE: Convened at 9:30 with the parties still at loggerheads over whether amendments unrelated to agriculture will get votes during the farm bill debate, as Republicans want. While the leaders continue negotiating offstage, Reid has arranged for votes that will reject two dramatic changes in farm policy proposed by GOP conservatives; one would shut down a pair of widely used land conservation programs and the other would subject crop subsidy programs to the vagaries of the annual appropriations process.

At 12:30 senators will reconsider their decision in December to block Mari Carmen Aponte’s confirmation for another stint as ambassador to El Salvador. The vote to break a Jim DeMint filibuster will be closer than last time because Marco Rubio has switched sides to support her (as Puerto Rican activists in Florida have been demanding) and says he can bring at least seven Republicans with him.

THE HOUSE: Not in session this week.

THE BIG GUNS: The Web video Boehner released today is significant both for what it is and what it is not.

Release of the 75-second spot, filmed in the Speaker’s ceremonial office, propels him from the relative shadows of the presidential campaign into the front ranks of the Romney surrogates — even though Boehner makes no mention of the Republican challenger by name. Instead, his remarks are all about promoting the GOP’s election year economic agenda and criticizing the president for rebuffing so many of the House majority’s ideas without any effort at negotiated compromise. But the timing — just before the dueling presidential campaign speeches on the economy in Ohio, and three days after Boehner and Romney met to discuss how the House majority could best bolster the GOP candidate’s quest — is a clear reflection of their agreement to coordinate messaging for the remaining 145 days of the race. (Boehner is also planning to campaign with Romney this weekend.)

The glossy video also appeared just hours after the other top congressional GOP leader served notice that he was shifting almost entirely out of legislative dealmaking mode and into help-the-presidential-candidate mode. McConnell did so by announcing that Republicans will block the confirmation of any more federal appeals court judges before the election — invoking the prerogative (known either as the Thurmond rule or the Leahy rule) of the Senate caucus opposite a president seeking second term. Such unilateral obstructionism on judicial nominees in the months before an election long predates the era of partisan objection as default setting, because it allows the party out of power to make a legitimate point about how the ideological makeup of the federal courts for decades or more is an important part of what every presidential election is about. Still, McConnell’s beginning of that period now nonetheless serves as a reminder that very, very little of consequence will get done at the Capitol in the next 21 weeks.

NOT SO NICE ANYMORE: That reality leads back to the dog-that-didn’t bark import of the Boehner video. Its staging featured copies of almost 30 bills laid out on his desk, which he described as the job creation agenda the House has passed — not “big, controversial bills that no one has read” but “practical, common-sense proposals to help small businesses create jobs and build a stronger economy.” And nowhere on the polished wood surface was a copy of the highway bill — which would do more to create many thousands of jobs, and quickly, than any other pending measure.

Sixteen days before the latest deadline — which Boehner himself has said will not be extended — negotiations look perilously close to running off the rails for good. Yesterday Barbara Boxer, who’s chairing the conference, tossed away weeks of maybe-forced, maybe-not big smile congeniality toward the House GOP and labeled them “extremists” preparing to block the bill for either political or small-government-is-best reasons. She and other Democratic senators also said such resistance could be overcome if Boehner would order his troops to back down. The Republicans in turn accused the Democrats of not budging enough on the remaining disagreement in the closed-door talks, starting with the GOP’s efforts to fast-track the Keystone pipeline, stop EPA regulation of coal ash, limit mass transit spending and cut spending on transportation “enhancements” such as bike lanes and greenery. Neither side would use the word “impasse,” but both sides seemed to be describing one.

McGURKED: There’s every reason to believe that Brett McGurk will never get even a committee vote on his nomination to become envoy in Baghdad. Opposition, for different reasons at each end of the political spectrum, is building quickly enough that Senate Foreign Relations is probably getting ready to drop plans for an endorsement vote on Tuesday — and it’s very unlikely to be rescheduled after that.

Six Republicans on the panel — John Barrasso, Jim DeMint, Jim Inhofe, Mike Lee, Jim Risch and Marco Rubio — formally asked the White House yesterday to withdraw the nomination. That symbolic smackdown is not going to happen as long as McGurk agrees, and quickly, to step aside on his own. Which he will probably do if the committee’s No. 2 Democrat, Barbara Boxer, tells him his position is untenable — in part because she doesn’t think he’s the right fit for the job, either. McGurk’s principal problem all along has been that his career trajectory soared because of his role carrying out the Bush administration’s policies in Iraq — policies the Democrats still cringe at, and which some Republicans think McGurk did a minimally effective job in executing. The diplomat’s extramarital affair in Baghdad with foreign correspondent Gina Chon — and his intemperate decision to put onto a National Security Council server his passions for her as both a source and a girlfriend — became the unprofessional deal-breaker long before they married or she was forced out at The Wall Street Journal.

TRAIL TIPS (Massachusetts) The Senate rivals poked hard at one another in dueling appearances this morning on ideologically friendly cable networks. “The test is about truthfulness, credibility and honesty,” Scott Brown said about Elizabeth Warren on “Fox & Friends.” “She’s failed that test as evidenced by her claiming to be a Native American and checking the box and making misrepresentations.” A few minutes later, on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe,” the Democratic challenger declared that the GOP “really doesn’t want to talk about the issues” and sought to put a positive spin on her balky handling of the controversy surrounding her heritage. “Am I a professional politician who should have figured all of this out and had some slick answer to deal with it? The answer is, that’s just not me.”

(South Carolina) The state Election Commission will decide tomorrow if votes cast Tuesday for a candidate who recently withdrew from an open-seat congressional race should be counted. If the ballots for state Rep. Ted Vick (who got out because of legal trouble) are included, then none of the Democratic candidates will have a majority and there will be a runoff a week from Tuesday in the state’s northeast corner — between the establishment’s pick, attorney Preston Brittain, and surging-out-of-nowhere economist Gloria Bromell Tinubu. And if they are not, then Tinubu (a former state legislator in Georgia) is the winner — and the party has even less chance of claiming the state’s newly awarded seventh House seat. (The Republican runoff will be between colorful former Lt. Gov. André Bauer and Horry County Council Chairman Tom Rice.)

(Nevada) Attorney Danny Tarkanian, son of the state’s legendary basketball coach, has emerged as the narrow winner of this week’s eight-way Republican primary for the state’s new (fourth) House seat on the outer edges of the Las Vegas metro area. His famous name will help him raise a decent amount of money and may get some of his calls to Washington’s GOP political power brokers returned, but the demographics of the new seat. (Obama would have carried it with 56 percent in 2008.) very strongly favor the election of state Senate Majority Leader Steven Horsford, who has Reid’s enthusiastic backing.

HAPPY BIRTHDAY: Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (73) and two GOP colleagues in the House, 17-term Wisconsinite Jim Sensenbrenner (69) and freshman Ohioan Bob Gibbs (58).

— David Hawkings, editor

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

More congressional campaign coverage is on Roll Call’s At the Races politics blog.

Copyright 2012 CQ Roll Call Inc. All rights reserved | Privacy Policy

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

CQ Roll Call Daily Briefing: Dimon on the Soles of Their Shoes

CQ Roll Call Daily Briefing

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Today In Washington

THE SENATE: Convened at 9:30 with plans to vote on, and rebuff, the first two amendments to the farm bill. One would gut federal sugar subsidies, and the other would turn the federal food stamp program (now known as SNAP) to the states. That’s as far as debate on the five-year, $969 billion food policy overhaul will get this week — unless Republicans win their demands to offer several nothing-to-do-with-agriculture amendments; top on their list is a bid to stop aid to Pakistan as punishment for its imprisonment of physician Shakil Afridi for helping the CIA find Osama bin Laden last year.

Senators will also mark time before an initial test vote on legislation to revamp federal flood insurance. And, as a gesture to Hispanic voters, Reid is ready to make a fruitless effort to secure a confirmation vote for Mari Carmen Aponte, who wants another turn as ambassador to El Salvador. She’s a Puerto Rican attorney who's well plugged in with Democrats, but GOP conservatives are worried that her boyfriend in the 1990s was an alleged Cuban spy.

THE HOUSE: In recess this week.

THE WHITE HOUSE: Obama and Biden are spending much of the day with Shimon Peres, with an hourlong meeting in the Oval at 3:20 — where the escalating crisis in Syria is bound to be a top topic — and dinner and entertainment in the East Room, where the Israeli president will pick up his Presidential Medal of Freedom. (Both the Clintons will also be on hand.) In between, the president will raise some money at the W Hotel.

IN THE ROUGH: Chairman Tim Johnson set aside his customary equanimity and reserve this morning and forcefully led the Democrats on Senate Banking in their lambasting of Jamie Dimon.

The senator derided the J.P. Morgan Chase chief for allowing “an out-of-control trading strategy with little to no risk controls that cost the company billions of dollars.”  Beyond that, Johnson signaled his doubts about the veracity of the sworn testimony Dimon was about to deliver — that the hedging tactics his firm employed, and which lost at least $2 billion in ultimately federally insured money this spring, were entirely a defense against too much risk. “How can a bank take on ‘far too much risk’ if the point of the trades was to reduce risk?” the chairman said as the hearing began (after a dozen protesters, some shouting “Jamie Dimon is a crook,” were ousted). “Or was the goal really to make money? Should any hedge result in billions of dollars of net gains or losses, or should it be focused solely on reducing a bank’s risks?  As the saying goes, you can’t have your cake and eat it too.”

The bank’s CEO told the committee that “it’s likely that there will be clawbacks,” or reductions in pay and bonuses, for some of the executives responsible for the loss, first revealed exactly two months ago. And he signaled that he viewed such internal punishments as sufficient — and that he and his Washington lobbying team would continue to fight against federal rules designed to foreclose the use of such hedging strategies. As required by the Dodd-Frank financial regulatory overhaul of 2010, several agencies are in the final states of deliberating how to implement the law’s so-called Volcker rule, which is supposed to bar banks from trading entirely for their own profit. Dimon’s position is that no justifiable version of a final rule could have applied the trading that led to J.P. Morgan’s losses — because the trading in credit derivatives at issue were supposed to offer a counterweight to other financial risks, not generate below-the-line money for the bank.

And, because J.P. Morgan’s spectacularly poor efforts on portfolio hedging did not cause any economic calamity outside the firm, and have not been knowingly replicated by any other banks, Dimon’s position is likely to be upheld by the regulators no matter how badly he’s pilloried in the Dirksen Building today.

SYRIA AND SEQUESTRATION: The rapidly escalating civil strife in Syria is further complicating an already unusually complex debate over defense priorities in the face of a threatened across-the-board spending cut with potential to hobble the nation’s military reach.

Clinton’s accusation yesterday — that Russia is shipping attack helicopters to Syria (and lying about it) so that Assad has added aerial firepower for his crackdown on the civilians and militias opposing him — will surely fuel intensified election year pressure from many in Congress for an assertive American response, although the calls of some military hawks (Senate Armed Services Republicans John McCain and Kelly Ayotte, most outspokenly) either for intervening or for arming the opposition look to be readily trumped by those pushing a less confrontational approach: establishing safe zones on the Turkish border where Syrians could flee their oppressors. But any sort of meaningful intervention would almost certainly cost in the tens of billions of dollars — easy to declare as a one-time “overseas contingency operation” exempt from budget strictures in the past, but not so easy to do in the current budget climate, one in which Senate Armed Services’ Democratic chairman, Carl Levin, now says the Pentagon should embrace doing with $100 billion less in the next decade as a trade-off for sidestepping a much more dramatic $490 billion sequestration.

Complicating the Syria situation much more is the intensifying displeasure on the Hill about the Army’s decision to purchase Russian-made Mi-17 helicopters as one of the Pentagon’s main contributions to support of Afghanistan’s military — on the theory that’s what the Afghan pilots know how to fly from back in the 1980s. The deal will provide not a penny to American defense contractors but will net Moscow’s military procurement system $900 million in the next several years — money that (on the theory that all cash is fungible) could then be spent to provide those choppers to Syria. The arrangement is also destined to complicate the business community’s efforts to advance legislation this year lifting Cold War-era trade restrictions on Russia. (House Ways and Means announced today that it would open hearings on that bill next Wednesday.)

Colin Powell, meanwhile, said on "CBS This Morning" that he opposed direct U.S. military involvement in what is “really a civil war” in Syria — in part because “I don’t sense any energy to do that” in either Congress or among the American public. The former secretary of State and Joint Chiefs chairman suggested that, in an era of widespread internal strife in countries around the world and budget scarcity at home, “I don’t know that there is much the United States can do except work with the international community.”

TRAIL TIPS: (Arizona) Ron Barber will be sworn in next week as the newest House member (and the 191st Democrat) while the two parties continue to disagree comprehensively about the meaning of his 6-percentage-point special-election victory yesterday. Democrats say the results should be read as a repudiation of conservative Republican fiscal policies and a sign the party will pick up both open seats in Arizona this fall. Republicans say the circumstances of the contest were unique and, with the emotional sway of the Gabby Giffords assassination attempt presumably fading, they can win in November. Their only serious chance for doing so, however, will come with a different nominee: Martha McSally, a retired Air Force colonel and fighter pilot who made global headlines fighting for women’s rights in Saudi Arabia. (By next week, look for tea party favorite Jesse Kelly to announce that he’s going back to his dad’s construction business for a while and will not seek to be the GOP candidate for a third straight time in the Tucson-centric district — where he came within 4,200 votes of defeating Giffords in 2010 but lost this time by 13,000, and would be running in the fall in post-redistricting territory that’s more Democratic.)

(Virginia)  Hours after George Allen’s lopsided primary win — he took yesterday’s Republican Senate nomination with 65 percent against three rivals, with former Virginia Tea Party Patriots head Jamie Radtke second at just 23 percent — the former senator and governor is getting a televised boost starting today from American Crossroads, the conservative group masterminded by Karl Rove. It has put ads on the air today accusing Tim Kaine of “selling policies he knows hurt Virginia” in order to buttress Obama while serving as both governor and Democratic national chairman. Crossroads and its allied super PAC, Crossroads GPS, unveiled the ads this morning as part of a $4.6 million campaign in six hotly contested Senate states. (Different ads are lambasting Bob Kerrey in Nebraska, Shelley Berkley in Nevada, Heidi Heitkamp in North Dakota, Claire McCaskill in Missouri and Sherrod Brown in Ohio.)

(New York) The toughest election of Charlie Rangel’s half-century in politics is less than two weeks away, and a pair of well-funded outside groups are starting to weigh in — albeit on behalf of different challengers. A group called Campaign for Our Future (the brainchild of New York marketing firm Protagonist) plans to drop 100,000 “Sorry, Charlie” fliers in Harlem this week; the broadsides argue, in both Spanish and English versions, that the absence of a formal Obama endorsement is a clear sign the Democratic hierarchy is looking to replace him — with former White House aide Clyde Williams. The Texas-based anti-incumbent Campaign for Primary Accountability super PAC, meanwhile, is planning to spend significantly on behalf of Rangel’s principal opponent, state Sen. Adriano Espaillat. The more the anti-Rangel vote is divided, of course, the likelier it is that the censured former Ways and Means chairman will get a 22nd term.

HAPPY BIRTHDAY: Manhattan’s Jerry Nadler (65) and his non-voting House Democratic colleague, Washington’s Eleanor Norton (75).

— David Hawkings, editor

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

More congressional campaign coverage is on Roll Call’s At the Races politics blog.

Copyright 2012 CQ Roll Call Inc. All rights reserved | Privacy Policy

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

CQ Roll Call Daily Briefing: Bye Bye Bryson

CQ Roll Call Daily Briefing

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Today In Washington

THE SENATE: Convened at 10 and will vote — probably after the weekly caucus lunches — to confirm Arizona Supreme Court Justice Andy Hurwitz as a judge on the 9th Circuit. The minimum-required 60 senators voted yesterday to break a filibuster by abortion rights opponents — all but one Democrat, Manchin, and Republicans Alexander, Brown, Collins, Kyl, Lugar, McCain, Murkowski and Snowe. (Curiously, given that the vote was scheduled last week, eight other Republicans were inexplicably absent: Burr, Chambliss, Coburn, Enzi, Hatch, Isakson, Toomey and Vitter.)

Debate on the farm bill will resume this afternoon, but so far there’s no deal to begin considering and voting on amendments. That’s because Republicans want to offer proposals unrelated to agriculture and food policy (including freezing aid to Pakistan, setting aside the defense sequester and limiting the reach of Dodd-Frank) and Democrats want to keep the legislation free of such language. A cloture vote by the end of the week will likely settle the matter.

THE HOUSE: Convened at 10 for a five-minute pro forma session, but lawmakers are in a “district work period” this week.

THE WHITE HOUSE: After a morning in the Oval, Obama is getting ready to leave on a 12-hour, six-fundraiser trip to Baltimore and Philadelphia. There’s a $50,000-a-plate lunch at the Owings Mills home of real estate developer Josh Fidler, two receptions at the Hyatt in the Inner Harbor and three events (for different levels of generosity) at the Franklin Institute.

MEDICAL LEAVE: A personnel announcement here a decade ago described a senior editor departing on “a leave of absence from which she is not expected to return.” That HR-driven rhetorical contortion may well emulate what the White House has in mind now for John Bryson.

Just after 10 last night, the suddenly most famous Commerce secretary in years declared that “effective immediately I am taking a medical leave of absence so that I can focus all of my attention on resolving the health issues that arose over the weekend,” when he crashed his Lexus three times into two cars within five minutes, lost consciousness and then was cited for felony hit-and-run before being hospitalized. His statement declared ominously that he would be away from his Cabinet post work “during the period of my illness.”

Administration officials have no apparent interest in explaining whether Bryson has a brand new seizure disorder, has been having epileptic episodes for some time without the West Wing or the Senate knowing about it, has a more profound medical problem that’s only now manifesting itself — or has other challenges that have not yet come to light. They won’t even say that the seizure Bryson described yesterday happened before he started his San Gabriel Valley bumper car spree. But what seems abundantly clear is that the White House (which was kept in the dark about the incident for more than 24 hours) has very little campaign-season empathy or patience, and wants this story to fade to oblivion right away. And that means that, if the 68-year-old secretary does not resign, he is highly likely to remain officially out of commission through the election, after which he’ll either be a lame duck or replaced for a second Obama term.

For Commerce, the suspended animation will mean very little, because the low-key operations of the department will be maintained by Deputy Secretary Rebecca Blank, who has stepped into the same “acting secretary” role she had a year ago, when Gary Locke left for Beijing. A former graduate dean at the University of Michigan and member of Clinton’s Council of Economic Advisers, she should have little trouble keeping the trains on time for six months.

ONE FOR THE LOCALS: The almost entirely safe bet is that Ron Barber will win his old boss’ seat today. And, as with almost all special congressional elections, the result will do very little to foreshadow the national story line about control of the House this fall.

Gabby Giffords is confident enough in her former district director (and fellow shooting victim) that she has invited him to walk her to the polls in Tucson early this afternoon — a visual that will absolutely cement the notion, one final time on the evening news before the polls close (at 10 D.C. time), that this is a race for “Gabby’s seat,” not some national referendum about the popularity of Obama (whom Barber has essentially run away from) or the staying power of the tea party movement (which has put some significant muscle behind Republican Jesse Kelly). Recent polling — most recently a Public Policy Polling survey that gave Barber a 53 percent to 41 percent lead — has revealed that many voters are interested as much as anything in electing Barber as something of a tribute to Giffords.

That said, both parties are putting a significant amount of effort into this race, in which early voting has been significant and today’s efforts include aggressive get-out-the-vote phone banks and door-to-door canvassing by both the GOP and Democrats. For the Republicans, it is a sign that they still believe Kelly, a former Marine who came close to ousting Giffords two years ago, can still win the election for a full term in November — even though, by then, the district in Arizona’s southeastern corner will have been reconfigured to be a bit more favorable to Democrats.

HOLDING PATTERN: Eric Holder is testifying this morning at a regular Justice Department oversight hearing by Senate Judiciary, and so far there has been no newsworthy exchange about Operation Fast and Furious — or the attorney general’s (not yet officially contempt-able) slow walking of the House’s subpoena. Senators in both parties have been much more interested in discussing the administration’s investigations of recent national security leaks. Across the Capitol, aides to the House GOP majority leadership are working with DOJ lawyers to try to reach an agreement that would forestall the contempt proceedings, which are set to get started in the Oversight Committee next week. Boehner and Cantor are backing Chairman Darrell Issa’s efforts on the surface, but behind the scenes remain worried that a high-profile balance of powers showdown will be seen as a partisan distraction form the GOP’s efforts to make the next five months all about the economy. (The leadership’s hope is that Holder does some sort of document dump, if not before next Wednesday’s committee vote, then at least before the full House votes, which would probably be the week of June 25.

BARELY BETTER: Congressional job approval looks to be rebounding ever so slightly, and stabilizing at a new normal in the middle-teens. The monthly Gallup assessment, taken last weekend and released today, puts the overall approval rating at 17 percent (and the disapproval rate at 79 percent), with Democrats liking what’s going on at the Capitol by a statistically insignificant 3 percentage points more than Republicans (20 to 17 percent) with independents’ approval a point behind. Congress’ job approval reached 39 percent, the highest in four years, after the stimulus package was enacted in March 2009, but it has been in a steady decline since. The number has been out of the teens only three times in the current Congress (the recent peak was 24 percent, last May) and in the 13 surveys since then the average has been 14 percent — even though approval reached a record low 10 percent in February.

TO THE JURY: Closing arguments are under way at the downtown federal courthouse in the case of Roger Clemens, who is accused of lying to Congress 13 different times four years ago about whether steroids and human growth hormone helped him become one of the best pitchers of all time. (At the time, House Oversight was conducting a TV-friendly inquiry into performance-enhancing drugs and pro sports; Clemens is also charged with obstructing that investigation and perjury.) After 26 days of testimony from 46 witnesses, jury deliberations will begin this afternoon. But, barring an unexpectedly quick verdict, they will be suspended for four days tomorrow night, because Judge Reggie Walton has a commitment out of town.

TRAIL TIPS: (Virginia) After a two-week barnstorm, George Allen’s organization is out in force today, working to make sure that apathy and low turnout do not hold down the size of his majority in the Republican primary to get back his old Senate seat. (Polls close at 7 and any registered voter can ask for either ballot; in the last contested Senate primary, six years ago, fewer than 4 percent voted.) Allen is looking to get at least 60 percent against his three rivals, who are all running to his right and labeling him a past-his-expiration date establishment party failure: tea party leader Jamie Radtke, socially conservative state legislator Bob Marshall and minister E.W. Jackson. If his vote share falls below that threshold, Tim Kaine (who’s unopposed for the Democratic nomination) will surely crow that his rival has irreversibly lost his stature in the state. Either way, the clash of the former governors will remain the marquee race in the battle for control of the Senate.

(North Dakota) Kevin Cramer is surging past another Republican member of the Public Service Commission (Brian Kalk, who has the backing of the state party organization) and is poised to win an upset primary victory today for the state’s only House seat, which is open because Rick Berg is running instead for the Senate. A poll last week showed a sudden 60 to 21 percent lead for Cramer, who has the backing of FreedomWorks, the Club for Growth and the Life and Marriage PAC. His victory would be almost unprecedented in a state where the party-endorsed candidates almost always cruise to the nomination. The Democratic nominee, former state Rep. Pam Gulleson, will be a decided but not-totally-out-of-it underdog in November.

(Hawaii) Cable TV behemoth Time Warner says it’s a first in the history of the industry: A candidate for elected office — Linda Lingle, the former Republican governor and upset-seeking open-seat Senate candidate — has launched her own cable network. LL2012 can be found on digital channel 110 (right next to Fox News) on the Time Warner system that serves the islands — allowing Lingle to have a more or less constant presence everywhere on the far-flung archipelago. “We are putting ‘people first’ by meeting voters where they are,” she said. The on-demand channel offers a menu of videos about Lingle’s positions on the issues and another menu soliciting donations. (The state’s Democrats will decide Aug. 11 whether  Rep. Mazie Hirono or former Rep. Ed Case will be their candidate to succeed Daniel Akaka.)

HAPPY BIRTHDAY: The 41st president, George Bush (88), and two House members, California Democrat Lucille Roybal-Allard (71) and Nevada Republican Mark Amodei (54).

— David Hawkings, editor

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

More congressional campaign coverage is on Roll Call’s At the Races politics blog.

Copyright 2012 CQ Roll Call Inc. All rights reserved | Privacy Policy

Monday, June 11, 2012

CQ Roll Call Daily Briefing: Formally Furious

CQ Roll Call Daily Briefing

Monday, June 11, 2012

Today In Washington

THE SENATE: Convened at 2 for speechmaking on the farm bill and a 5:30 vote that will advance Andy Hurwitz, the vice chief justice of the Arizona Supreme Court, toward confirmation as the 28th active judge on the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals. (That would leave a single vacancy on the court, which hears cases from nine Western states.) Some senators are offended by Hurwitz’s abortion-rights writings – as a law clerk, four decades ago.

THE HOUSE: Not in session this week.

THE WHITE HOUSE: Obama is in the Cabinet Room touting his economic prescriptions for rural America in interviews with local TV anchors, airing at 5 in eight small markets — six of them (Roanoke, Jacksonville, Sioux City, Green Bay, Colorado Springs and Reno) in swing states. (The other two are Fresno and Greenville, S.C.) He’s got meetings this afternoon with Biden, Geithner and Panetta.

THE SUPREME COURT: The justices declined to take another look at the rights of the 169 foreigners being detained indefinitely at Guantánamo Bay — rejecting appeals from seven prisoners who assert that the ground rules for challenging their confinement (set by the court itself four years ago) are being ignored.

Next Monday is the next time the court might issue its rulings on the constitutionality of the 2010 health care law or the Arizona immigration law. There are only two more scheduled “decision days” left in its term after that.

RIGHT ON TIME: Top Republicans announced this morning that the House would start formal contempt citation proceedings next week against Eric Holder.

The effort will stand as the last best (really, the only) balance-of-powers standoff between this Democratic administration and this GOP House — but it absolutely will not amount to any fines or jail time for the attorney general. That is not the point. The point for the Republicans is to energize their base by doing something ominous-sounding during this campaign season to further their portrayal of this White House as arrogant, out of its depth and ethically sketchy.

The first step will be a June 20 vote in the Oversight Committee, which will absolutely be along party lines, to hold Holder in contempt of Congress for not producing everything the panel subpoenaed last October as part of its inquiry into “Fast and Furious,” the disastrous program that allowed traceable federally owned weapons to get into the hands of drug lords in hopes of making them easier to catch. (Hundreds of guns moved illicitly on purpose in Arizona wound up in Mexico, many of them at crime scenes, and at least one was used to kill a border agent, Brian Terry.)

Boehner and Cantor were wary of this approach for weeks, but this morning they issued enthusiastic endorsements of Chairman Darrell Issa’s announcement. That means the full House will probably vote for the contempt citation next month — the first time it has done so in (what a coincidence) four years. Back in 2008, a Democratic House voted to hold Bush administration officials Josh Bolten and Harriet Miers in contempt for not cooperating with an investigation of the politicized firings of U.S. attorneys. There was a headline, the Democrats used the kerfuffle to raise some money, the Bush Justice Department slow-walked the required take-it-to-a-grand-jury paperwork until after the presidential election, and then the matter faded to oblivion. A parallel set of circumstances looks destined to be repeated this time. For Holder, there is no possible rationale to cooperate this close to an election — especially because it’s very likely that what he would turn over would include some evidence that his team really did mess up in Fast and Furious, then made matters worse by being far less than forthcoming once the congressional inquiry got started.

L.A. STORY: Many of the 98 percent of Americans who couldn’t identify the Commerce secretary before now can probably name him today. But, unless his explanation is ironclad for his three car crashes in five minutes this weekend (and for skipping the scene of one of them), then “John Bryson” won’t be the correct answer to the ultimate Cabinet trivia question by the end of the week.

Department officials said this morning that the 68-year-old secretary had a seizure just before the incidents in Southern California on Saturday afternoon. They did not offer additional details, but said Bryson was back in Washington and effectively on the job. The Los Angeles County Sheriff’s office and the San Gabriel Police said their joint investigation was continuing but that, at least initially, “there is no indication that alcohol or drugs played a role in the collisions.”

They also said Bryson had been cited for a felony hit-and-run — but was not jailed because he needed to spend Saturday night in the hospital. Officers had found him, unconscious, behind the wheel of his Lexus after it crashed into a Honda Accord (occupied by a man and a woman) near the intersection of San Gabriel and Hellman in Rosemead just after 5. A few minutes earlier, the police report said, Bryson apparently rear-ended a Buick as it waited for a train to pass, spoke briefly with the three men in that car, banged into the Buick a second time and then took off down South San Gabriel. (The men gave chase and called 911.) Being cited for hit-and-run leaves it to the county DA whether to file formal criminal charges. Only minor injuries were reported in the other vehicles involved in both accidents.

Bryson — who is 10th in the line of presidential succession — was traveling without a driver or other security because he was not working that day. (He had been the commencement speaker on Thursday at the high school from which all four of his daughters graduated.) Bryson has been Obama’s second Commerce secretary for eight relatively obscure months, having taken the job when Gary Locke went to China as ambassador. Like so many people in the job before him, Bryson was a corporate titan (CEO of the utility giant Edison International, board member of Boeing and Disney) but his confirmation was opposed by 24 Senate Republicans because of his promotion of renewable energy sources at Edison and his founding leadership of the Natural Resources Defense Council.

THE SPIN CYCLE IS DOING FINE: David Axelrod worked overtime again today to spin away the biggest single rhetorical gaffe Obama has made as president, while the Romney campaign and congressional Republicans made clear they would work to get the entire country to commit the president’s “the private sector is doing fine” line to memory between now and Election Day. The fact that the comment is now dominating the news for a fourth day is evidence the GOP is onto something that could stand as the 2012 equivalent of “the fundamentals of the economy are strong” (McCain in 2008) and “Mission accomplished” (Bush in 2004).

The president’s senior political adviser asserted on “CBS This Morning” that voters are smart enough to know that Obama knows he misspoke, and to forgive him so long as they concluded that he understands their continued economic anxiety. Axelrod also reiterated the president’s view (amply supported by the numbers in the monthly jobs reports) that the overall employment picture would look substantially rosier were it not for shrinkages in payrolls at all levels of government.

Obama walked back from his news conference comment within hours on Friday, telling reporters it’s obvious that “the economy is not doing fine.” But the initial six words have stuck through 72 hours of news cycles because, quite simply, they reinforce the Republican narrative that the president is cerebrally out of touch — and therefore prone, in Romney’s words, to such “an extraordinary miscalculation and misunderstanding.” His campaign has followed it up with two web-based ads in as many days.

HAPPY BIRTHDAY: Today, GOP Rep Mike Conaway of Texas (64) and Charlie Rangel (82), whose bid to win the Democratic nomination for a 22nd term as Harlem’s congressman looks on track 15 days before the primary; yesterday, GOP Rep. Lynn Jenkins of Kansas (49).

— David Hawkings, editor

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

More congressional campaign coverage is on Roll Call’s At the Races politics blog.

Copyright 2012 CQ Roll Call Inc. All rights reserved | Privacy Policy