Every December, Why All The Drama?

Every December, Why All The Drama?

By Emma Dumain and Simone Pathe, CQ-Roll Call (TNS)

WASHINGTON — Every December brings anxieties about Congress finishing its work in time to avert a government shutdown. Christmas cheer is overshadowed by partisan finger pointing; lawmakers have months to come to an agreement on spending priorities and policy riders, but don’t.

Before they headed home this past weekend, many rank-and-file lawmakers paused to consider why they find themselves in a deadline rush every December and whether it will ever be different.

Speaker Paul D. Ryan caught people by surprise when he said the day before the government’s funding expired that Dec. 11 was an “arbitrary” goalpost.

“Look,” the Wisconsin Republican said at his weekly news conference. “Deadlines come and deadlines go. We want to make sure that we get it right.”

Congress bought some time on Dec. 11 when it passed a five-day continuing resolution to keep federal operations afloat. However, Ryan’s comments marked the first time in recent memory a top House Republican publicly shrugged at the reality that negotiations had gone that far down to the wire.

One reporter questioned whether Ryan’s attitude was one of “nonchalance.” But the new speaker wasn’t saying anything most people in the Capitol didn’t already know.

In the House, rank-and-file lawmakers passed the short-term CR by voice vote on Dec. 11 and shortly thereafter headed home for the weekend, leaving senior negotiators and their staff to finish the year-end omnibus appropriations talks.

Rolling spending measures into one massive package, or “omnibus,” has likely exacerbated the end-of-the-year crunch. “Since 2001, only about a quarter of those appropriations bills have been handled as stand-alone measures,” explained Molly Reynolds, a fellow in governance studies at the Brookings Institution.

The 12th month of every year is a time for heartburn, headaches and hand wringing — and then everything works out, or at least enough so that members can go home before Christmas.

“There’s a lot at stake,” said Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, R-Fla., the chairman of the Transportation-Housing and Urban Development Appropriations Subcommittee. “We’re moving forward and then (Minority Leader) Nancy Pelosi stopped it, stop talking. Because she wants more leverage. And her leverage is time, to force it so that there’s no time and you’re on the verge of a shutdown and everything else and she thinks she has more leverage.

“Do I blame her? No,” he continued. “Do I like it? Absolutely not. I wish she would just roll over, just like she wishes we would roll over.”

Zero-sum games are just as much a part of spending spill negotiations as they are a part of talks between athletes and sports teams or between striking laborers and management, said Norman Ornstein, a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute and a longtime observer of Congress.

“It’s not just procrastination,” he said. “Everybody believes that in the end, you’ve got more leverage. And of course, it’s not necessarily the case that both sides have more leverage … it’s the perception.”

What makes it worse in Congress, he added, is partisan dysfunction.

But former state legislators laughed off the idea that stalling is a condition unique to Congress.

“When I was in the legislature, I used to say about the budget: ‘Think of it as childbirth,’” said House Military Construction-Veterans Affairs Appropriations Subcommittee Chairman Charlie Dent, R-Pa. “‘It’s painful. Sometimes you’re a little early, sometimes you’re a little late, sometimes you’re on time. Sometimes there’s a breach.’”

Democrats, too, feel that running out the clock has been a consistent part of legislating.

“Oh, I mean, I was in the state legislature 30 years ago, and we operated like that,” 13-term Rep. Collin C. Peterson, D-Minn., said.

Some Republicans, though, think the process is going to change with new leadership.

“I think this is going to be the last year for a while that this is going to happen,” said Wyoming Republican Cynthia M. Lummis, the sole female member of the House Freedom Caucus, who’s retiring at the end of this Congress.

The end-of-year drama has been a constant feature of Lummis’ time in Congress, she said, “up until the day Paul Ryan raised his hand and was sworn in.”

“And now,” she added, “all bets are off on the old culture; the new culture is coming. But it doesn’t happen on a dime, and so we’re in the remnants of the last draws of breath of this aberration of a process.”

One reason to be hopeful things actually will change, Reynolds said, is that the budget deal passed at the end of October outlined next year’s top-line spending levels, which should speed up next year’s negotiations.

“At the same time,” she cautioned, “next year is an election year, and obviously their attention will be directed elsewhere.”

In the meantime, Rep. Tony Cárdenas, D-Calif., is capitalizing on the year-end scramble in the partisan messaging wars, recently tweeting a riff on Adele’s new hit single.

He wrote: “Hello from the other side/we postponed this 1000 times/I’m sorry/we don’t know how to legislate/Republicans made us wait til the last date.”

©2015 CQ-Roll Call, Inc., All Rights Reserved. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

Photo: Newly elected Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives Paul Ryan wields the speaker’s gavel for the first time on Capitol Hill in Washington October 29, 2015. REUTERS/Gary Cameron

Congress Has A List Of Deadlines, Is Checking It Twice

Congress Has A List Of Deadlines, Is Checking It Twice

By Emma Dumain, CQ-Roll Call (TNS)

WASHINGTON — Congress returns this week for a pivotal work period with multiple deadlines, a busy schedule for an institution that tends to wait until the very minute to get things done.

House lawmakers will be spending the next few legislative days laying the groundwork on crucial pieces of legislation for the rest of the month, negotiating terms and conditions among themselves and with their counterparts across the aisle and Rotunda.

Simultaneously, Speaker Paul D. Ryan, R-Wis., will keep tabs to ensure he keeps promises he made during the run-up to his election as speaker.

The two key deadlines come with their own political and logistical complications.

On Dec. 4, the latest short term reauthorization of the transportation bill expires.

Democrats and Republicans are eager to prove skeptics wrong and pass a multiyear bill to fund surface transportation programs. The two chambers have assembled a conference committee, but time is short to agree on a conference report before Friday, which will likely lead to at least one more short-term extension. One key sticking point is the Senate’s inclusion of a provision to reauthorize the lapsed charter of the Export-Import Bank.

One week after the highway bill deadline, Congress faces the Dec. 11 expiration of the latest continuing resolution funding the government. The task of moving a year-end omnibus spending bill through the pipeline is made significantly easier by the budget agreement earlier this fall, which increased spending levels beyond the still-in-place sequester budget caps. Conservatives are still targeting spending, and some Republicans want to extract concessions in exchange for their votes in the form of policy riders. Those policy riders, whether about clean air standards, Muslim refugees from Syria or a perennial issue such as health care, could trigger a White House veto threat or, perhaps worse, force Republicans to rely on Democrats to push the measure over the finish line. Relying on Democrats is something Ryan has pledged to avoid.

Republicans will consider language to defund Planned Parenthood, especially if efforts to target the women’s health organization through the budget reconciliation process fall through in the Senate.

They will likely also call for provisions to halt the flow of Syrian refugees into the United States after the terrorist attacks in Paris. Ryan tried to anticipate these fights in November by holding “listening sessions” with some appropriations subcommittee chairmen and rank-and-file Republicans, a chance for members to air their grievances and express their preferences while the omnibus was drafted.

There are other legislative agenda items that could come up before Congress heads home for the holidays, although the debate over the highway bill and omnibus might push those into the new year.

Negotiators are expected to release their conference report for rewriting the No Child Left Behind law that sets standards for elementary and secondary schools.

As with the highway bill, House Republicans could revolt if their more conservative version is diluted during the bicameral talks with the Senate.

Also as with the highway bill, the longer negotiations continue, the more discontent is likely to fester, particularly when members go home to their districts during the holiday recess and get an earful from constituents, egged on by outside advocacy groups.

Congress could always consider an extension of tax breaks for businesses and individuals, but is more likely to punt the issue into 2016 by passing a short-term patch.

Some lawmakers were hopeful they could get a deal by the end of 2015 to revive the nearly 50 tax breaks that expired in 2014.

Ryan wanted an overhaul of the tax code to be his legacy in his previous position as chairman of the Ways and Means Committee, and he might still push for the issue hard as speaker.

Ryan’s successor on the tax-writing panel, Texas Republican Kevin Brady, will have his own ideas and those could dictate how much progress on the so-called tax extenders gets made before Christmas.

(Alan K. Ota contributed to this report.)

©2015 CQ-Roll Call, Inc., All Rights Reserved. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

Photo: Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) speaks at the 2014 Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) at the Gaylord Resort in Oxon Hill, MD. This year is the American Conservative Union’s 50th anniversary and the theme is “Getting it Right for 50 Years.” (Pete Marovich/MCT)


House Democrats Plan Alternative To Syrian Refugee Bill

House Democrats Plan Alternative To Syrian Refugee Bill

By Emma Dumain, CQ-Roll Call (TNS)

WASHINGTON — House Democrats are planning to introduce a leadership-endorsed proposal that provides Americans with security without completely blocking Syrian refugees from entering the United States.

The alternative measure has the potential to weaken support for the Republican-backed bill set come to the floor Thursday.

The GOP bill would take a more hard-line approach to the vetting process of Iraqi and Syrian refugees seeking to resettle in the United States. The legislation is a response to the Nov. 13 terrorist attacks in Paris carried out by affiliates of the Islamic State, also known as ISIS or ISIL.

Combining elements of policies proposed by Homeland Security Chairman Michael McCaul, R-Texas, and Rep. Richard Hudson, R-N.C., the bill would not “pause” Syrian refugee admissions entirely, as many Republicans have been clamoring for since last week and which makes Democrats nervous.

President Barack Obama rebuked congressional Republicans for “hysteria” and “an exaggeration of risks” about Syrian refugees coming to the U.S.

On Capitol Hill, Democrats believe imposing additional layers of bureaucracy to an already tightly controlled vetting process, as the GOP bill would do, could be tantamount to shutting down the program.

“It would close the program down for two years, if not more,” said Rep. Zoe Lofgren, D-Calif., ranking member of the Judiciary immigration subcommittee. She said Democrats were “working on language” Tuesday and consulting with the Department of Homeland Security, State Department and terrorist specialists.

“We were getting input and feedback from experts and not just ourselves,” she said in an interview.

A joint statement released by Lofgren and Democratic Reps. Adam B. Schiff and Bennie Thompson said the GOP bill would also “severely handicap future refugee resettlement around the world.”

Democratic leadership aides familiar with the alternative now say lawmakers are weighing procedural options for forcing a vote on their new bill, which is still being drafted.

One move would be to offer the Democratic bill as a substitute amendment to the GOP measure during the Rules Committee markup late Wednesday afternoon. The GOP majority on Rules usually rejects Democratic amendments, so this could be a test of Speaker Paul D. Ryan’s commitment to promoting a more open House.

Democrats could also offer their alternative during floor debate as a “previous question” or “motion to recommit,” two procedural maneuvers that are the minority party’s prerogative.

The Democratic proposal is still being crafted, but sources say it’s likely to include provisions sought by Lofgren and Thompson, the ranking Democrat on the Homeland Security Committee.

Lofgren and Thompson were in touch late Tuesday with their GOP counterparts to suggest modifications to the GOP bill. Lofgren did not share details of the Democrats’ request, but said it included alternative ways to tighten the refugee vetting process hampering the United States’ ability to admit asylum seekers.

At least one of the Democratic suggestions was included in the GOP text, according to a Republican aide familiar with the discussions.

As far as Lofgren is concerned, Republicans never responded to her and Thompson.

“If they really wanted a bipartisan bill, they didn’t act like it,” she said.

A senior GOP aide described the Democrats’ version of events as “not entirely accurate.”

There is also concern that some Democrats who may have been willing to support the GOP bill could feel pressure to back off.

One moderate Democrat, Rep. Brad Ashford of Nebraska, so far said he plans to continue supporting the bill by McCaul and Hudson.

“We have just agreed to be the only Democrat on it, so far, to co-sponsor that bill,” Ashford’s chief of staff, Jeremy Nordquist, told CQ Roll Call on Wednesday. “I think it gets to where we want to be — we don’t want to have a suspension of the program if we don’t have to — but I think Congressman Ashford wants … to make sure we’re addressing the security concerns of our constituents.”

Nordquist said Ashford plans to talk to his Democratic colleagues ahead of a Thursday floor vote. He might find allies among fellow members of the Blue Dog Coalition, the fiscally conservative Democratic group.

Hudson, meanwhile, told reporters he hopes Democrats would come on board.

“We’ve worked very closely with some leaders on the Democratic side,” he said. “The speaker has spoken to Leader (Nancy) Pelosi, so those negotiations are ongoing.”

Photo: Eleven-year-old Omran Wawieh, right, a refugee from Syria, is staying with parents and siblings at a motel in Pomona, Calif. Democrats in the Senate plan an alternative to a Syrian refugee bill. (Irfan Khan/Los Angeles Times/TNS)

Democrats Face Risky Votes Ahead Of Memorial Day Recess

Democrats Face Risky Votes Ahead Of Memorial Day Recess

By Emma Dumain, CQ-Roll Call (TNS)

WASHINGTON — House Democrats have some tough decisions to make before Congress breaks for a weeklong Memorial Day recess.

Walking a fine line between practicality and messaging, rank-and-file members are weighing their options for having the most impact on two legislative agenda items: a short-term extension of the Highway Trust Fund and the fiscal 2016 Legislative Branch appropriations bill.

Some lawmakers think if they withhold votes for either of these measures, they’ll be sending strong statements against proverbial can-kicking and sequester-level spending caps.

Those “no” votes, however, carry some political risk.

Voting against a bill that would keep countless transportation and infrastructure projects — and jobs — afloat past May 31 is hard to defend at first blush. Still, a growing number of Democrats and even some GOP moderates are arguing what’s more destructive is the succession of short-term patches preventing long-term certainty and sustainability.

Late last week, a bipartisan House coalition of mainly Democrats was looking for co-signers on a letter to Speaker John A. Boehner (R-OH), and Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), pledging opposition to anything short of a multiyear highway bill. The measure due for consideration this week would extend the Highway Trust Fund, set to expire this month, through July 31.

Proponents say the extension buys Congress time to negotiate a six- or seven-year solution and reach consensus on the disagreements on offsets and costs. But Democrats counter they don’t have many options left to force leadership on both sides of the aisle to come to the table and hash out that elusive deal.

“What you’re seeing is people reaching a boiling point about the irresponsibility of not having a long-term transportation fund with a long-term funding source,” Representative Peter Welch (D-VT), said in the letter to Boehner and Pelosi. “This is protesting a failure to do our jobs.”

For Democrats worrying over the ramifications of voting against a short-term Highway Trust Fund extension, Welch said there was little to fear: If he and his allies were successful in sinking the patch, leaders would be compelled to act quickly to strike a compromise.

“Things can happen quickly around here when they have to,” he said.

Another co-signer, Representative John Carney (D-DE), admitted there were a number of colleagues who would have liked to join the effort but didn’t want to pretend a long-term agreement was tenable just days before the current Highway Trust Fund extension expires.

“Our tactic was mainly to send a message that people have this view,” Carney explained. “I think we’ve been successful, at least, in thinking about it and focusing on how do you actually force action or force folks to face up to the reality and in that sense we’ve had great dialogue.”

Welch and Carney might have backing from House Democratic leaders, though no decisions have been made.

“Republicans had ten months to come up with a long-term solution, and that’s what should be coming to the floor,” said an aide with Democratic leadership. “We will be talking to our members about the proposal Republicans introduced.”

Democrats face even longer odds on stopping the GOP’s Legislative Branch spending bill. The bill is usually the least controversial of all 12 appropriations, and rejecting it because of the topline number is a tough sell: At least with the other bills, like the fiscal 2016 Military Construction and Veterans Affairs measure, there were amendments Democrats didn’t like to justify their opposition.

A separate House Democratic leadership aide suggested Legislative Branch, which funds the operations of Congress, wouldn’t cause serious consternation.

As for a formal strategy to stonewall every appropriations bill until Republicans agree to a budget deal replacing sequestration, that same aide denied anything like that was in the works. He did, however, say there was an agreement to use the amendment process in committee markups and floor debates to put Republicans on the spot.

Forcing GOP appropriators during last week’s Transportation, Housing and Urban Development markup to go on record opposing full funding for Amtrak after the deadly derailment in Philadelphia was one example of that tactic. Whatever amendment votes Democrats make Republicans take during the scheduled Wednesday markup of the Commerce, Justice, and Science appropriations bill will also be key.

But that doesn’t mean there aren’t ongoing conversations about what kind of message it would send to have every Democrat be unified in opposition to spending bills, even one as parochial as Legislative Branch.

Late last week, Representative Steve Israel (D-NY), chairman of the Democratic Policy and Communications Committee, invited appropriation subcommittee ranking members to the weekly meeting to discuss messaging strategy around appropriations bills.

“Look, I understand, and would expect, that some members of the committee struggle with voting against their own bills. I’m struggling myself with voting against those bills,” said Israel, who is also a member of the appropriations committee. “And the purpose of the meeting was to say whatever those concerns would be…let’s just have one message.”

Israel said that means voting against the bills — he would be voting against Legislative Branch, he said — or voting for them, but doing so in context: Explain the reasons behind the “yes” vote but don’t forget to argue against sequestration in the process.

“One of the things the DPCC is trying to do is have many messengers, but one message,” Israel said.

Photo: Elliott P. via Flickr

Centrist New Democrats Want Bigger Role In Party’s Message

Centrist New Democrats Want Bigger Role In Party’s Message

By Emma Dumain, CQ-Roll Call (TNS)

WASHINGTON — Members of the New Democrat Coalition have struggled for years to make their centrist message heard in the larger, and distinctly more left-leaning, House Democratic Caucus.

The 46 self-described “moderate” and “pro-growth” House members in the NDC say they agree with the rest of their caucus on “90 percent of the issues” — it’s the remaining 10 percent that’s harder to summarize.

How difficult? Rep. Derek Kilmer (D-WA) shares a joke he tells about the NDC to illustrate the point.

“The New Dems’ message doesn’t fit on a bumper sticker,” he told CQ Roll Call. “So I said we should stand on the steps of the Capitol and shout, ‘What do we want? A comprehensive approach to job creation that includes tax reform, investments in infrastructure and a pro-growth budget that invests in our future! When do we want it? Well, we want to work in a collaborative way to bring people together!’

“I should probably have thrown ‘education’ in there, too,” Kilmer added. “That would be a part of the chant, too.”

The NDC members have long bemoaned their exclusion from the leadership table that’s typically — especially now — skewed to the left.

But with Democrats of all stripes evaluating what went wrong in the 2014 midterms and wondering how to win back seats in 2016, New Dems see an opening to really be heard — and hopefully taken seriously.

That’s why, for the first time in its nearly 18-year history, the group is putting out a comprehensive legislative agenda.

The two-page document, obtained early by CQ Roll Call, lays out what the New Dems think the party needs to do to compete in moderate swing-districts around the country, where Democrats have suffered major losses.

“There is a role for us to play,” said New Democrat Coalition Chairman Ron Kind of Wisconsin. “We’ve got to have a more active role and meaningful voice, or these districts are going to be harder and harder to defend going forward.”

When the New Dem agenda is formally unveiled Wednesday, Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi of California and Budget Committee ranking member Chris Van Hollen of Maryland are scheduled to join the group at its weekly lunch, a promising signal for Kind.

According to CQ Roll Call’s copy of the agenda, the NDC’s policy priorities include several causes close to Democrats’ hearts, such as “expand(ing) childcare opportunities that help everyone balance work and family,” and “reform(ing) our broken campaign finance system.”

“You can find differences between New Dems and the Progressive Caucus,” said NDC Vice Chairman Jim Himes of Connecticut, “but when we’re with each other, no one ever forgets we agree on the vast majority of policy ideas.”

But closer examination shows the document is a fairly dramatic departure from the talking points being promoted by the party establishment.

This election cycle, House Democratic leaders are touting a campaign trail narrative centered on growing the middle class. In 2014, they spoke largely about eradicating income inequality, extending unemployment insurance and raising the minimum wage.

The New Dems’ “American Prosperity Agenda” highlights policy areas that mainstream Democrats have largely glossed over. The coalition’s “innovation” platform urges members to talk about ways to ensure the United States “lead(s) in the next great discoveries” and “become(s) the global magnet for the world’s top talent.”

Then there are the areas where members of the Congressional Progressive Caucus — who currently make up the largest demographic of House Democrats — are likely to flat-out balk.

The New Democrat Coalition says the party ought to “fix the tax code to create American jobs and help American businesses compete” — or, support a tax overhaul that would be friendly to the business community, which progressives increasingly regard with skepticism.

The members often use phrases preferred by Republicans, such as “lower regulatory obstacles” and “hold our schools accountable for results.”

And then there’s the reference to Trade Promotion Authority, an issue that is already dividing House Democrats and could be the source of some of the biggest intraparty fissures in recent memory.

As the NDC put it: “Aggressively pursue expanding export opportunities so we can make it here and sell it everywhere.”

New Democrats are ready to defend their position on trade, though they say it distracts from all the other issues they care about and has become the one position singled out most often by their critics on the left.

“It’s going to be an important role for the New Dem Coalition, to keep the focus on the policy and not the rhetoric,” Kind said.

Historically, New Democrats have tried to minimize tension between themselves and other factions in the House Democratic Caucus. On economic issues, they are more centrist, but in social matters their records are nearly identical.

Many moderates off Capitol Hill say the New Democrats should avoid presenting themselves as successors to the Blue Dogs, the fiscally and sometimes socially conservative Democrats from predominantly Southern states whose ranks were painfully diminished in the GOP wave of 2010.

The Blue Dogs also were frequent thorns in leadership’s side. The New Dems say they don’t want to be that, either.

But many stakeholders say the coalition needs to be more aggressive when it comes to fighting against campaign tactics they say have cost Democrats their majorities in both chambers, and they hope the “American Prosperity Agenda” is a step in that direction.

“Look,” said Jim Kessler, a co-founder and vice president of policy for Third Way, an outside group that works closely with the New Democrat Coalition. “I think on the one hand, there’s never been more interest in what the New Dems and moderates are saying within the caucus and throughout Washington. At the same time, there’s never been more hostility.”

Kessler said that while the New Democrats want to “govern,” the progressives represent the “advocacy wing of the party that often times is happy having the fight rather than coming to some sort of conclusion.”

Will Marshall, president of the Progressive Policy Institute, said that House Democratic leaders ultimately have a responsibility to represent the ideology of the majority of their members.

“The leaders have to reflect the caucus, right? And numerically speaking, the people in the caucus now have the lefter-tilt,” Marshall explained. “To the extent that there’s resistance (to the New Democrats), I don’t think it comes from the leaders as it does from the left wing of the party. Folks that are in very safe Democratic districts, very urban districts that produce supermajorities, people who are not vulnerable, they’re just under a different set of incentives and frankly they have closer ties to groups that are happier with the party’s status quo than the moderates are.”

New Democrats speaking with CQ Roll Call wouldn’t insert themselves into the fray, with Kind saying: “It’s awfully easy when you don’t win an election to start turning on each other.”

New Democrat Whip John Carney of Delaware just hopes the “American Prosperity Agenda” proves to be a useful tool, in many ways, in the months ahead.

“We’re developing a vision and something that we can all rally behind and understand,” he said. “Here’s what we’re all about. Here’s our area of focus. These are a series of things that we bring to the table and our caucus can build on, our common values and objectives.

“It’s a message we can take to constituents back in our own districts,” he said. “We can use it to pick up districts as we try to expand our caucus.”

Photo: ehpien via Flickr

Nearly Two Dozen House Democrats Call For Netanyahu Delay

Nearly Two Dozen House Democrats Call For Netanyahu Delay

By Emma Dumain, CQ-Roll Call (TNS)

WASHINGTON — Twenty-three House Democrats have signed onto a letter calling on Speaker John Boehner to postpone Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s scheduled March 3 address to a joint session of Congress.

The lawmakers argue that while they are loyal allies of Israel, the timing of the planned visit — two weeks before the Middle East nation’s elections — betrays a political agenda on the part of the GOP.

“The timing of this invitation and lack of coordination with the White House indicate that this is not an ordinary diplomatic visit,” the members write. “Rather this appears to be an attempt to promote new sanctions legislation against Iran that could undermine critical negotiations.

“At the State of the Union President Obama made it clear that he will veto new Iran sanctions legislation,” the lawmakers continue. “The invitation to Prime Minister Netanyahu enlists a foreign leader to influence a presidential policy initiative. We should be able to disagree on foreign policy within our American political system and without undermining the presidency.”

They write that “this places Israel, a close and valued ally, in the middle of a policy debate between Congress and the White House. We should not turn our diplomatic friendship into a partisan issue.”

The letter to Boehner was spearheaded by Financial Services ranking member Maxine Waters of California, Congressional Progressive Caucus Co-Chairman Keith Ellison of Minnesota and Rep. Steve Cohen of Tennessee.

The co-signers represent the more progressive contingent of the House Democratic Caucus, among them Reps. Barbara Lee of California, Luis V. Gutierrez of Illinois and Jim McGovern of Massachusetts, along with CPC First Vice-Chairman Mark Pocan of Wisconsin.

Along with Waters, ranking members who signed their names to the letter include Reps. John Conyers Jr. of Michigan, the top Democrat on Judiciary, and Peter A. DeFazio of Oregon, who holds the caucus’s senior slot on Transportation and Infrastructure.

Waters, Lee and several others — Andre Carson of Indiana, Danny K. Davis of Illinois, Hank Johnson of Georgia, Eddie Bernice Johnson of Texas and New Jersey Democrats Donald M. Payne Jr. and Bonnie Watson Coleman — are also members of the Congressional Black Caucus, which has accused the GOP of showing disrespect for the president in extending the Netanyahu invite without White House involvement.

The remaining Democratic lawmakers who lent their signatures to the letter are Reps. Earl Blumenauer of Oregon, Betty McCollum of Minnesota, Jim McDermott of Washington, Peter Welch of Vermont, Chellie Pingree of Maine, Mark Takano of California, John Yarmuth of Kentucky and Beto O’Rourke of Texas.

Here’s the full text of the letter:

Dear Mr. Speaker:

We write to urge you to postpone your invitation to Prime Minister Netanyahu to address a joint session of Congress in March. Israel is a valued ally and Israeli Prime Ministers have a long history of addressing Congress. As members of Congress who support Israel, we share concern that it appears that you are using a foreign leader as a political tool against the President. We very much appreciate that Prime Minister Netanyahu has twice had the honor of speaking before a joint session.

However, at this time your invitation is contrary to the standards by which our Congress operates and has the potential to harm U.S. foreign policy.

The timing of this invitation and lack of coordination with the White House indicate that this is not an ordinary diplomatic visit. Rather this appears to be an attempt to promote new sanctions legislation against Iran that could undermine critical negotiations between the P5+1 and Iran. At the State of the Union President Obama made it clear that he will veto new Iran sanctions legislation. The invitation to Prime Minister Netanyahu enlists a foreign leader to influence a Presidential policy initiative. We should be able to disagree on foreign policy within our American political system and without undermining the presidency.

Aside from being improper, this places Israel, a close and valued ally, in the middle of a policy debate between Congress and the White House. We should not turn our diplomatic friendship into a partisan issue. Beyond threatening our diplomatic priorities, the timing of this invitation offers the Congressional platform to elevate a candidate in a foreign election.

A visit from Israel’s Prime Minister would normally be an occasion for bipartisan cooperation and support. Our relationship with Israel is too important to use as a pawn in political gamesmanship. We strongly urge you to postpone this invitation until Israelis have cast their ballots and the deadline for diplomatic negotiations with Iran has passed. When the Israeli Prime Minister visits us outside the specter of partisan politics, we will be delighted and honored to greet him or her on the Floor of the House.

Photo: World Economic Forum via Flickr

In Richmond’s Defense Of Fellow Lawmaker Scalise, A History Of Camaraderie

In Richmond’s Defense Of Fellow Lawmaker Scalise, A History Of Camaraderie

By Emma Dumain, CQ-Roll Call (TNS)

WASHINGTON — Democrat Cedric L. Richmond’s defense of Steve Scalise after revelations the Republican majority whip spoke to a white supremacist group in 2002 raised eyebrows in Washington — especially among other members of the Congressional Black Caucus.

But the two Louisiana congressmen — one a black progressive, the other a white conservative — have a relationship that goes back 14 years, to their early days as friendly adversaries in the state Legislature.

“In between Scalise and Richmond there’s kind of a yin and a yang,” fellow Louisiana Rep. John Fleming, a Republican, told CQ Roll Call recently.

Long before December’s revelations about Scalise, the two lawmakers served together for nearly eight years in the Louisiana statehouse.

The Democrat from New Orleans and the Republican from the city’s suburbs didn’t agree on raising the minimum wage or revisiting the number of days a suspect can remain incarcerated before formal charges are made.

Still, over time, a friendship developed.

“We would fight during the day in the Legislature and then in the evening we would go play basketball and we would have drinks together,” Richmond recalled last summer in an interview with the Baton-Rouge Advocate.

Publicly, tensions could look ugly. In 2007, Richmond was peeved that Scalise hadn’t given him a heads-up before going to the media to announce plans to explore impeachment proceedings against a local elected official.

“Maybe it’s because he’s running for Congress,” Richmond said of Scalise at the time.

Scalise was elected to Congress in 2008, and Richmond followed two years later, crashing the then-all-GOP Louisiana House delegation with his ouster of moderate Republican Rep. Anh “Joseph” Cao.

After their years in Baton Rouge, Richmond and Scalise picked up where they left off, recalling the mutual respect and personal fondness they cultivated back in Louisiana outside of the requisite partisan bickering.

At the 2011 State of the Union address immediately following the near-fatal shooting of former Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-AZ), Scalise and Richmond chose one another as bipartisan seating companions.

On the precipice of Richmond’s first Roll Call Congressional Baseball Game — a yearly tradition he would come to dominate — the former college athlete said he was eager to take on his old friend, a high school wrestler.

“We have neighboring districts, and we served in the Legislature together, so we’re pretty competitive,” Richmond said. “I can’t wait to get a chance to pitch against Steve.” (In a subsequent baseball game, Scalise got the better of Richmond, to his sheer delight.)

The two men soon discovered working together on Capitol Hill was, in some ways, easier than opposing each other in Baton Rouge. Both shared a commitment to hurricane-ravaged New Orleans. Since 2011, they have jointly sponsored amendments and standalone bills to provide flood protection and aid Gulf Coast recovery post-Hurricane Katrina, in many cases enjoying bipartisan legislative successes.

When Scalise was named the majority whip in June over two Republican rivals, Richmond was among those who cheered the professional milestone. And when Scalise was scrambling in December to explain why he accepted the invitation to speak to a group founded by David Duke, Richmond helpfully weighed in: “I don’t think Steve Scalise has a racist bone in his body.”

Today, even in the aftermath of controversy, Scalise and Richmond find common ground as members of a close-knit delegation. The six House lawmakers have resumed a long-dormant practice of holding monthly meetings to catch up and talk shop, Fleming said, adding that the get-togethers are now held in the more luxurious setting of Scalise’s leadership digs where the whip even gives them “a hot breakfast.”

Fleming suggested that perhaps there was something about the culture of the Louisiana congressional delegation, the civility within its fabric when it came to displaying mutual respect.

“Even when Senator (Mary L.) Landrieu was in our delegation, we always gave her the greatest respect, and the only woman in our delegation,” Fleming added of the Democrat who lost last fall to his former House colleague, Republican Bill Cassidy.

The delegation’s comity appears to go both ways. Richmond not only backed Scalise as he withstood criticism, but in spring 2014 found himself in the corner of another embattled Louisiana Republican: then-Rep. Vance McAllister, who was in trouble for being caught on camera kissing a woman who was not his wife.

“This is the part of the job I hate. The two parties have taken far too much joy in other people’s pain,” Richmond said at the time. “I got to know Vance and his wife, and when something like this happens, you know there is a lot of pain.”

At the Roll Call Congressional Baseball Game a few months later, Richmond, a hard-throwing fast-baller, took some speed off the ball when McAllister came to the plate.

Neither Scalise nor Richmond wanted to speak to CQ Roll Call for this story, though news outlets have reported that Scalise has let Richmond know how much he appreciates his efforts to calm the waters of the controversy.

Sources add, however, that the gratitude, almost 15 years in the making, could run even deeper than that.

Photo: Gage Skidmore via Flickr

Democrats Leave Philadelphia United, On Message — For Now

Democrats Leave Philadelphia United, On Message — For Now

By Emma Dumain, CQ-Roll Call (TNS)

PHILADELPHIA — For House Democrats, it seemed fitting they held their annual issues conference in the City of Brotherly Love.

After nearly three months of soul-searching and second-guessing in the wake of a demoralizing midterm election, it took just three days in Philadelphia to restore — at least publicly — a sense of unity and resolve among most of Nancy Pelosi’s troops.

“I feel like there has been somewhat of a narrative of ‘Democrats in disarray,'” Rep. Jan Schakowsky said at one point. “I’m trying to find that anywhere and I haven’t seen it.”

Many agreed with the Illinois Democrat. In a retreat notable for a lack of outbreaks or gripes about leadership, both members and aides attending the closed-door strategy sessions told CQ Roll Call that the show of togetherness was real.

But despite the tightly choreographed panels, the new middle-class mantra and Thursday night’s fiery call-to-arms from President Barack Obama, there were members wondering if the retreat was more flash than substance.

“All of that is good, people are feeling good,” said Rep. Peter Welch D-VT). “I think the challenge for us now is, ‘OK. What’s our message?'”

Many of his colleagues would fire back that they already have one for 2016: Democrats are of the party that will fight forcefully and unapologetically for the growth, development and prosperity of the middle class.

“The word is ‘aspirational,'” said Rep. Steve Israel, the most recent chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee who’s now the head of a leadership task force charged with honing party talking points. “Our message will be built on a foundation of aspiration. … Everything has to go through the prism of middle class security.”

Still, some members are not convinced just talking about the middle class will be the panacea after last November — even if this time around, party leaders have vowed to be less muddled in delivering the bottom line.

After all, the rhetoric that Democrats extolled this week isn’t entirely new, as Ways and Means ranking member Sander M. Levin of Michigan conceded.

“It isn’t that we just arrived,” Levin told CQ Roll Call. “It’s not a new message. But I think there’s a new urgency.”

Rep. Scott Peters of California, a sophomore member who only barely won re-election, was more pointed in his assessment: “I’m skeptical that saying the same thing better is the right answer.”

For Peters and others attending the retreat, there was a sense that with all the talk, there was still a lot that was left unsaid regarding what went wrong in the last cycle and how to right the ship in the next.

“I think there are things that we have to come to terms with, how poorly we’ve done in these elections. I don’t think we did that,” Peters said. “In that sense (the retreat) was a lost opportunity. A little bit.”

But if there are members in the 188-person Democratic caucus who would take issue with the premise that lawmakers left Philadelphia more unified than they were before, why did none of them speak out in the hours-worth of panel discussions? There were plenty of opportunities to interact with the president and vice president, political strategists, public officials and even their own peers.

Peters himself acknowledged that he did not disrupt any of the programming to share his views, saying that for the most part he enjoyed the presentations.

One House Democrat who attended the retreat suggested that the lack of candid conversation about lingering concerns with 2016 strategy from within the rank-and-file had to do with the format of the retreat.

With the theme “Growing America’s Economy, Growing American Paychecks,” the schedule of events was carefully plotted out and meticulously timed. The Democrat said many members had made suggestions to leadership about what panels would be helpful in getting to the root of the troubles in the 2014 cycle, but for whatever reason those recommendations weren’t reflected in the final agenda.

It also was a fact that many of the members who are most outwardly critical of leadership, who have more moderate leanings than the rest of their colleagues or who are among the most politically vulnerable in the caucus — those who might have felt compelled to speak out of turn — did not attend the retreat. That’s true most years.

In the meantime, members are prepared to go back to Capitol Hill and push leadership to address the kinds of things they think will make a difference.

Welch wants Democrats to be bold on policies like supporting a gas tax increase to pay for legislation to fund surface transportation and infrastructure improvements.

Members of the moderate New Democrat Coalition want their colleagues to be less knee-jerk when it comes to their opposition to giving Obama authority to enter into trade negotiations, an issue that is already causing divisions within the caucus (though one of the harshest critics of so-called “fast-track authority,” Democratic Steering and Policy Co-Chairwoman Rosa DeLauro of Connecticut, disputed the premise that disagreement on the issue could be jeopardize for the appearance of Democratic unity).

And the Congressional Black Caucus chairwoman in the previous Congress, Ohio Democrat Marcia L. Fudge, told CQ Roll Call, “I’ve always said that, as a party, we don’t talk enough about the poor.”

One House Democratic aide who sat through the retreat was the least forgiving: “The angst in the caucus (wasn’t) dealt with, and will continue to fester.”
(Matt Fuller contributed to this report.)

Photo: President Obama addresses members of the House Democratic caucus on Thursday, Jan. 29, 2015, during a three-day policy retreat in Philadelphia’s Society Hill neighborhood. (Tom Gralish/Philadelphia Inquirer/TNS)

Analysis: What The House GOP’s Abortion Bill About-Face Really Means

Analysis: What The House GOP’s Abortion Bill About-Face Really Means

By Emma Dumain, CQ-Roll Call (TNS)

WASHINGTON — A significant contingent of women and moderate members of the House Republican Conference prevailed Wednesday, convincing GOP leadership that the political blowback for voting to ban abortions after 20 weeks could far outweigh any favor curried with the anti-abortion base of the party.

It wasn’t clear Thursday whether the decision to swap out the “Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act” for less controversial legislation to prohibit taxpayer funding for abortion services signaled a permanent shift back toward the middle for House Republicans.

But for one day — the same day thousands of anti-abortion protesters converged on Washington, D.C., for the annual March for Life — GOP moderates held sway.

The Republican centrists had, for the past week, been pushing leadership to reconsider its plan to bring the bill up, or at least amend the measure’s exemption clause.

The original text would only have allowed a woman to have an abortion after the 20-week threshold in a case of rape, incest or danger to her life — with the caveat the woman would have to report the rape to the authorities first. Reps. Renee Ellmers (R-NC), Jackie Walorski (R-IN), and others argued it was an unfair burden, especially given statistics showing that the majority of rapes go unreported.

Ellmers, the chairwoman of the Women’s Republican Policy Committee who has a history of pushing male colleagues to be aware of how their actions could alienate voting bases of women and young people with whom they hope to make electoral gains, suggested bringing the Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act was ill-advised. She removed her name from the list of co-sponsors, even though she said on Facebook she was prepared to vote for it.

In the lead-up to the vote on the bill to ban taxpayer funding for abortions, Ellmers, Walorski and other Republican women who opposed the original legislation made themselves scarce to reporters waiting for interviews outside the chamber, eager to ask whether they felt gratified that their efforts had paid off.

Another opponent, Rep. Charlie Dent (R-PA), chose not to explicitly gloat, but said he wasn’t surprised Republican leaders had listened to members’ concerns.

“They had four options here,” Dent said of party leaders. “The first option was to run the bill as is with the problematic exemption language. Two, take out the exception language and just leave in life of the mother. Three, put in the traditional … language: Rape, incest and life of the mother. Or four, pull the bill. The only option that made sense was the pull the bill because every other option would not get the votes you needed to secure passage.”

Republican leadership sources insisted, however, that the decision to pull the original bill late Wednesday night had nothing to do with concerns about a shortfall of support, but was rather made in appreciation of members’ deep concerns with the language.

“These are complicated issues about awful, tragic situations,” one House GOP aide told CQ Roll Call in an email Thursday. “Our leadership team did the right thing by listening to Members and being responsive to their concerns. No one should be in a situation where they feel pressured to vote against their own conscience.”

Indeed, leadership did not poll members to see whether the legislation had the support to pass, keeping with the tradition of not formally whipping bills considered “conscience votes.”

Democrats appeared to think they had emerged with the upper hand. One by one they came to the floor Thursday to decry the bill up for consideration in scathing terms, sharing their criticism with a hint of glee over the GOP flip-flop: Republicans had, once again, miscalculated what they could — or should — pass.

“The bill that was supposed to come to the floor today … was so odious and destructive that some women of the Republican conference rebelled against it,” said Rules Committee ranking member Louise M. Slaughter (D-NY). “(It) caused such a meltdown in the Republican Conference that the House majority pulled it from the floor for fear that it wouldn’t pass, but something had to be done: Visitors were coming to town … to raise the clarion call against a woman’s right to choose.”

“If at first — you have heard the adage before — you don’t succeed, try something else again,” Democratic Caucus Vice Chairman Joseph Crowley, also of New York, taunted. “That’s clearly what the Republican colleagues are doing. … They have a long list of bills that attack health care and women’s access to care. so it’s easy for them to just swap it out for another extremist effort.”

“Get your priorities straight,” Democratic National Committee Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz of Florida added.

Democrats have enjoyed watching Republicans falter in the early days of the new Congress, from the 25 defections to John A. Boehner’s bid for a third term as speaker to the volume of “no” votes on an amendment to end a White House program granting stays of deportation to certain undocumented immigrants. And then there was Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) working the House floor to kill a GOP bill under suspension of the rules that would have rolled back certain financial regulations.

A senior House Republican aide acknowledged to CQ Roll Call it had been an unfortunate couple of weeks and not a great way to start the new year, especially with a new GOP-controlled Senate to ostensibly make the legislative process run more smoothly. Ultimately, however, the aide brushed aside concerns it would have reverberations outside the Beltway microcosm: A few months from now, voters would remember that Republicans took an important vote on federal funding for abortion services, not that they pulled a bill banning the practice after 20 weeks, the point at which some studies suggest a fetus can begin to feel pain.

Republican leadership aides stressed they would continue working to address concerns so the bill could be brought up again. House Republican Conference Vice Chairwoman Lynn Jenkins of Kansas told CQ Roll Call that she hoped the legislation would go through the relevant committees before being scheduled for floor consideration, suggesting perhaps that would have prevented the controversy and bad feelings.

“Naturally, I would have preferred we go through regular order so we could vote on this today,” Jenkins said.

An identical version of the bill went through the proper channels in 2013, when it also ran into some trouble.

The sponsor of the bill in the 113th Congress, Rep. Trent Franks (R-AZ), made a comment during the markup in the Judiciary Committee suggesting that pregnancies resulting from rape were rare, resulting in a leadership decision to add in exception language where before there had been none and move to prevent Franks from managing floor debate on his own bill.

A lead sponsor of the bill in the 114th congress along with Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-TN), Franks couldn’t say why the measure met a different kind of opposition today than it did two years ago.

Dent suggested that maybe people had read the bill more carefully this time around; Jenkins said that there were new members of the House Republican Conference who prompted a new level of scrutiny, even though Ellmers and Walorski were around during that time.

Franks told reporters that it wasn’t a question he could answer.

“You will have to ask someone else on that point because we made the most desperate attempt to avoid these kinds of …” Franks gave a long pause, choosing his words carefully.

“These kinds of surprises,” he continued, “by making sure that the bill that we introduced was exactly, word for word, letter for letter, the same as the one we passed last time.

“To say anything other than that I was profoundly disappointed would be disingenuous,” he said.

Photo: Gage Skidmore via Flickr

‘Toughest Border Security Bill Ever’ Sets Table For Piecemeal Strategy

‘Toughest Border Security Bill Ever’ Sets Table For Piecemeal Strategy

By Emma Dumain, CQ-Roll Call (TNS)

WASHINGTON — The House is set to vote next week on what some Republicans are proudly calling “the toughest border security bill ever.”

But once the roll is called and the measure is passed, then what?

Not yet a month into the 114th Congress, Republican leaders’ plans to advance border security legislation are sparking some speculation this could be the first installment in the GOP’s long-promised “piecemeal” approach to fixing the immigration system.

Just what Speaker John A. Boehner (R-OH) and his allies have in mind could have some effect on what sort of support the pending bill receives.

The bill, sponsored by Homeland Security Chairman Michael McCaul of Texas, would, among other things, impose harsh penalties for federal agencies that fail to meet certain requirements. One mandate would be achieving “operational control” — which means preventing every single illegal entry across the Southern border — within five years.

Republicans who want to tackle the immigration issue, despite having come up short in the previous Congress, say passing McCaul’s bill will help make the task more palatable this time around: Many members say they won’t even look at fixing other areas of the nation’s flawed immigration laws until they are guaranteed more border enforcement.

“I actually think this makes other pieces easier to vote for, if you’re comfortable that an adequate security piece is in place,” said Rep. Tom Cole (R-OK). “I don’t think doing border security and stopping would be the appropriate thing to do when we know there are other areas where we can get some things done.”

A member of Boehner’s circle of confidantes, Cole emphasized leadership hasn’t made a decision yet about how McCaul’s bill fits into a larger immigration strategy — if it does at all — but says discussions on how to proceed are occurring, “without a doubt.”

“I think the speaker is very, very determined,” Cole said.

Aides to both Boehner and Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) reiterated they have no set plan beyond next week’s intended House passage of the border security legislation.

However, some Republicans want assurances sooner than later that the McCaul bill won’t be the end of the conversation on immigration. Some suggested they needed that guarantee before the floor vote.

Rep. Jeff Denham (R-CA) said he plans to accompany McCaul over the weekend on a fact-finding trip to the border, where he hopes to extract more information.

“I continue to have concerns about timing, as well as the sequence of the other bills that should be coming up as well,” said Denham, an outspoken advocate for providing a pathway to legal status for the nation’s undocumented immigrants. “I think there needs to be a commitment from our conference that we address all aspects of immigration.”

Rep. Mark Amodei (R-NV), another supporter of comprehensive immigration overhaul legislation, expressed similar sentiments. “I’ll be watching very, very carefully for, ‘You said you needed this first, so we got that first, now let’s talk about other (things),'” he said.

More hard-line conservatives, meanwhile, are reticent to support the measure out of concerns the bill could be the first step in a broader immigration push that would include a pathway to legalization.

“I’m always apprehensive to advance a piece of legislation that could become a vehicle for a lot of other stuff that’s not very good,” said Rep. Steve King (R-IA), a vocal critic of immigration overhaul efforts. “I’d like to hear from (leadership), ‘What’s your strategy?'”

Rep. John Fleming (R-LA), dismissed the McCaul bill as having “too many loopholes.” Rep. Tom McClintock (R-CA) said, “I won’t trust border security until I actually see it.”

And Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL) made his opposition known from the other side of the Capitol for a bill he said “fail(ed) to include the measures necessary to fulfill its promises.”

Another concern for the Tea Party wing is whether McCaul’s border security bill is just an attempt to provide cover for members who will end up voting “yes” on a “clean” funding bill for the Department of Homeland Security, which runs out of money at the end of next month.

The House last week passed a DHS spending bill with amendments to roll back President Barack Obama’s program granting stays of deportation for certain undocumented young immigrants, but it’s doomed for a veto at the White House, if it even gets through the Senate.

Republicans such as Rep. Raul R. Labrador of Idaho, participating in a monthly panel discussion of House conservatives on Wednesday, said they wouldn’t support tying McCaul’s bill to DHS funding even if it did send a strong message to the administration.

“You’re going to make the McCaul bill a divisive issue in the conference, as opposed to something that brings the brings the conference together, which I think (is) what Chairman McCaul was attempting to do,” Labrador said.

Whatever happens, Republicans are liable to need most of their members to come on board with McCaul’s bill next week: Democrats on Wednesday indicated they were unimpressed and unconvinced the GOP was prepared to act in good faith on immigration.

“The suggestion that maybe this is the beginning of a piecemeal approach (is) a big leap for us to take,” said Democratic Caucus Vice Chairman Joseph Crowley of New York.

“You should ask (McCaul) how many Democrats he talked to in formulating this legislation. That’ll give you a sense of how bipartisan they’re truly trying to be,” Democratic Caucus Chairman Xavier Becerra of California chimed in.

An hour before his committee was set to mark up his legislation, McCaul — who said his proposal is the “toughest border security bill ever set before Congress” — told reporters he wasn’t worried about bringing enough Republicans into the fold. Plus, he said he’d just made a successful pitch to the conservative Republican Study Committee.

“I think the only major reservation (RSC members) had was Mr. Sessions’ comments that seven additional items weren’t included that were immigration-related. My bill isn’t an immigration bill, it’s a border security bill,” McCaul said. “Once I explained that to them, they understood that it’s not within the jurisdiction of the committee.

“It would have been nice if (Sessions) had called me before he blasted out a press release,” McCaul added, “but I’d be more than happy to talk to him about this.”

Matt Fuller and Hannah Hess contributed to this report.

Photo: Gage Skidmore via Flickr

Looming Trade Deal Could Divide Obama, House Democrats

Looming Trade Deal Could Divide Obama, House Democrats

By Emma Dumain, CQ Roll Call (TNS)

WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama wants Congress to pass legislation that would give him the authority to negotiate a long-sought trade agreement with nearly a dozen countries in the Pacific region.

The problem is, a growing number of House Democrats don’t want to let him have it.

It could make for a potentially uncomfortable situation in which Democrats, already marginalized by the fully GOP-controlled Congress, can’t bring themselves to back their own president.

It also could create divisions within the caucus itself, with members torn between allegiances to their party and a desire to advance policy they feel will promote a healthier global economy.

On Thursday, joined by high-ranking officials from some of the largest and most powerful unions in the country, at least 16 House Democrats gathered in a packed room in the Cannon House Office Building at a press conference-cum-pep rally. They were all there to rail against so-called fast-track authority for the Trans-Pacific Partnership, which allows the administration to negotiate the terms of a trade agreement according to a specific set of parameters.

Once a formal trade agreement is hashed out using those parameters as a basis, Congress gets to vote up or down on the finished product — with no opportunities to offer amendments or make further revisions.

Representing a diverse spectrum of progressives and moderates, Democrats suggested they were the conscience of the Congress, aiming to protect American jobs and prevent a situation where trade deals were made with countries with little regard for labor, environmental and human rights practices.

Transportation and Infrastructure ranking member Peter A. DeFazio (D-OR) mocked Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) for supporting a trade deal.

“He knows that this agreement is going to cost America jobs, and so therefore he’s trying to facilitate some weak-kneed Democrats to vote for it,” DeFazio said of McConnell. “What are you gonna retrain those people for? McDonald’s? If we give up all our manufacturing base and quality jobs, what are you going to retrain people for?”

Rep. Tim Ryan (D-OH) also piled on.

“Let me say this: The 2006, 2008, 2010, 2012 and 2014 elections were all about economics. Make no mistake,” Ryan said. “If we want, as Democrats, to connect with these voters, we need to talk about the issues that they care about, and it’s fast track, and it’s trade.

“We are duly elected,” he continued. “We are the ones on the ground when the steel mill closes. We’re the ones in the union halls, shaking hands, holding hands, hugging wives and kids that have lost their jobs.”

Democrats who have typically been inclined to support trade agreements and fast-track authority are uncomfortable with the divisions growing in the caucus and the sense that they are being cast as villains and traitors.

Rep. Jim Himes (D-CT) called the Democratic opposition faction the “hell no” caucus, a nod to the informal moniker reserved for the disagreeable contingent of far-right conservatives in the Republican Conference.

“It’s disturbing to see a debate that is demanding sort of absolute positions on legislation that does not yet exist,” said Himes said this week. “There is a camp out there that doesn’t want to hear about fast-track, not interested in what it involves, the terms … of course it’s going to be controversial.”

Himes said he had not decided how he would vote on the issue, but that he is keeping an open mind and will wait to see what the terms entail, with a careful eye on how environmental, labor and intellectual property issues are handled.

Rep. Gerald E. Connolly (D-VA), a vice-chairman of the centrist New Democrat Coalition, said he would support a fast-track trade agreement, and that he worried members in his party would sink the effort.

Though more Republicans than not might be inclined to vote “yes,” a contingent of conservatives are wary of handing negotiating authority over to the executive branch, and a bipartisan coalition could be necessary to push the measure over the finish line.

“There are conflicting points of view within our caucus and a healthy debate that is healthy, and I would hope that all points of view will be respected,” Connolly said. “There isn’t just one point of view. Maybe there is a more dominant view on trade in the Democratic Caucus — there always has been.

“My position is, you need to separate the authority from the actual trade agreement,” Connolly continued. “Isn’t this president entitled to the same authority as all his predecessors have had in living memory? My position is yes.”

At a separate event off-campus on Thursday morning, House Ways and Means Trade Subcommittee Chairman Pat Tiberi (R-OH) reported that there were reasons to be optimistic: “That TPP agreement is within grasp,” he said, though didn’t offer any timetable.

In a statement, a spokesman for the U.S. Trade Representative was also undeterred: “Our trade agenda is about supporting jobs through expanding Made in America exports. TPP will be the most progressive trade agreement in history, breaking new ground on labor and environmental protections. We are going to be making that case to Congress and the American people.”

Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) considered the liberal champion at the highest party ranks, has not tipped her hand as to whether she would help or walk away from the president on trade.

“Obviously we want to see what the negotiation is on trade. You know how complicated that issue is,” she said at her weekly press conference on Thursday, which coincided with the start of the media event in Cannon. “Let’s see what they’re proposing. I’m not at that press conference, I don’t know what they’re saying.”

She also implied that she wasn’t caught up with where the majority of her caucus stood on the issue.

“I don’t know that most people in our caucus have made up their minds — many have, yeah, but what they have made up their minds to is that they want to see transparency, they want to see consultation, they want to see fairness, they want to see what this means to the American paycheck,” Pelosi said. “But we are not opposed to trade. John F. Kennedy proclaimed us a party of trade. I’m raised in a city of trade, clipper ships in Baltimore, Maryland; San Francisco — a big trade city. We all know that we live in a global economy. We also have to know about — whatever we are doing — we have to make a judgment as to how it affects the American worker. And I think the administration has been engaged in some good discussion with our members on that score.”

House Minority Whip Steny H. Hoyer (D-MD), who is more moderate than Pelosi and seen by some as more amenable to trade deals, is also a wild card at this point as to which contingent he’ll align with should legislation providing fast-track authority make its way to the floor.

“It is controversial, and it’s controversial mainly because there is a real fear in our party that unless you have vigorous enforcement and labor rights and environment rights included within trade agreements, that we are put in an unfair competitive situation with our trading partners,” Hoyer said at his weekly reporters’ briefing on Tuesday.

Clark Mindock and Bridget Bowman contributed to this report.

AFP Photo/Jewel Samad

High Stakes For Pelosi, Party With Energy And Commerce Fight

High Stakes For Pelosi, Party With Energy And Commerce Fight

By Emma Dumain, CQ Roll Call (TNS)

WASHINGTON — It started as a race to choose the next ranking member of the Energy and Commerce Committee; it could ultimately end as a referendum on the status quo.

When House Democrats finally settle the score this week, their choice between Reps. Frank Pallone Jr. of New Jersey and Anna G. Eshoo of California could send a strong message about how deeply members still hew to the seniority system.

And in a caucus growing increasingly antsy over the stasis at the leadership table, this ranking member election could be the closest thing to an up-or-down vote on Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi that members get for the next two years.

Pelosi, who has repeatedly endorsed her close friend Eshoo, is expected to run unopposed for a sixth full term as the House’s top Democrat.

Lawmakers will not say so publicly, but many of them think that if Eshoo loses, it will be because she became a casualty of greater frustrations within the caucus.

The fight sparked by California Democrat Henry A. Waxman’s retirement announcement in January became so dramatic because there was never a clear frontrunner or an easy choice. Stakeholders agree Pallone and Eshoo’s policy positions are nearly identical, and their legislative records are unblemished.

So members were forced to consider other factors: Who called them first to ask for their vote? Who gave them money in a tough re-election bid? Who has always been their friend?

Eshoo, the No. 5 Democrat on the panel, has cast herself as a champion for colleagues who believe the seniority system should never be, as she said back in February, “sacrosanct.”

“With almost 50 percent of our caucus members being members of the Democratic Caucus with six years or less under their belts, then maybe for the seniority question, attitudes are changing,” said Rep. Raul M. Grijalva, D-Ariz., who in 2013 lost to a more senior member in a bid to be ranking member on Natural Resources.

Pallone, the committee’s No. 3 Democrat, has appealed to the caucus’ long-standing deference to seniority. The Congressional Black Caucus is especially protective of what it dubs the “historic tradition” that has allowed its members to steadily climb up committee leadership ranks.

“When I first came here 10 years ago, the conversation among members was, ‘Seniority mattered,'” said Rep. G.K. Butterfield, D-N.C., the CBC’s likely chairman in the 114th Congress.

“As the years went on, the conversation became, ‘Seniority is important, but not controlling.’ Then the conversation was, ‘Seniority is a factor.’ And now the discussion among some is that seniority really should not be a determinant,” he said. “That is not the direction I want our caucus to go.”

Pelosi’s decision to insert herself into the race also was a turning point. It’s rare for leaders to take such strong public positions in gavel fights, and members and aides agree — no matter which candidate they support — the party leader is assuming some risk in coming out so strongly for her fellow Californian.

An Eshoo victory would show Pelosi’s influence remains strong as ever while a loss could raise questions about Pelosi’s clout at a time when she is trying to hold a demoralized caucus together after a bruising election cycle.

Rep. Mike Thompson, D-Calif., one of Eshoo’s lead whips, told CQ Roll Call the leader’s backing wasn’t inappropriate, especially given Eshoo is godmother of the Pelosi children.

“She is the Democratic leader and also Anna Eshoo’s best friend, so if anyone thought she wasn’t going to endorse her, they hit their head on the way to work,” Thompson said. “There is not a single member of the Democratic Caucus who doesn’t want Nancy Pelosi’s support. There’s not one person who hasn’t come to her asking for her help.”

It’s true there are plenty of people supporting Pallone who are and will remain loyal to Pelosi, and for them the vote isn’t anything more than a simple preference.

Thompson was articulating what many members — Eshoo and Pallone supporters alike — have said privately in dozens of interviews with CQ Roll Call since Pelosi sent out that first endorsement letter back in February, though Pelosi insists there is more to it than friendship.

“I’m very proud of Anna Eshoo,” the minority leader volunteered at a news conference Thursday. “I think sometimes in the course of our legislative lives, a person comes along who is a perfect fit to take us into the future. I think that is who she is.”

Both ranking member hopefuls are working overtime to shore up 11th-hour support. Rep.-Elect Brad Ashford of Nebraska told CQ Roll Call that he’s already gotten calls from the candidates themselves, as well as from Pelosi and Minority Whip Steny H. Hoyer of Maryland, who is quietly but openly operating for Pallone.

And the sniping continues.

Team Pallone outed Eshoo for only giving money to vulnerable lawmakers who supported her ranking member bid; Team Eshoo hit back that Pallone only started giving money to everybody once the slot opened up.

Pallone’s camp pointed out Eshoo formed a leadership PAC in March, a sign she only recently got serious about being a “team player”; Eshoo’s backers have countered Pallone is hardly a paragon of sportsmanship, never making it a secret he’d rather be in the Senate.

Eshoo is likely to win phase one of the selection process and win the recommendation of the regional representatives, leaders, senior members and Pelosi appointments who make up the 50-plus-member Steering and Policy Committee. If a losing candidate receives more than 14 votes among that group, he or she can force a runoff among all the House Democrats. And that full caucus vote will come down to the razor-thin wire.

Of course, both sides insist they have the whole thing locked up.

AFP Photo/Win Mcnamee

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Pelosi Defiant: ‘When Was The Last Time You Asked Mitch McConnell’ If He’s Too Old?

Pelosi Defiant: ‘When Was The Last Time You Asked Mitch McConnell’ If He’s Too Old?

By Emma Dumain, CQ Roll Call (MCT)

In her first public remarks since Election Day, Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi defended her decision to run to keep her post atop the House Democratic Caucus, and doesn’t sound likely to relinquish her post anytime soon.

“I don’t understand why this question should even come up,” the California Democrat said at a press conference Thursday. “I’m here as long as the members want me to be here.

Pelosi suggested that she wasn’t, as many expect, looking to serve one more term as Minority Leader before retiring in 2016 — when, colleagues hope, Hillary Rodham Clinton will be elected president.

“I’m not here on a schedule,” Pelosi said, “except for a mission to get a job done.”

She also hinted that there was implicit sexism in the constant rhetoric of “will she or won’t she.”

“When was the last time you asked Mitch McConnell … ‘Aren’t you getting a little old, Mitch?'” said Pelosi of the Republican senator from Kentucky.

McConnell, who is 72, has been in Senate GOP leadership since 2003 and the minority leader since 2007. He was earlier on Thursday elected Senate majority leader for the 114th Congress.

At 74 years old, Pelosi has been in House Democratic leadership since 2002 — and has been at the very top of the caucus power structure since 2003.

Pelosi acknowledged that the 2014 midterm elections were disappointing for her colleagues, especially for the incumbents who lost. She reiterated an argument she has made over the past week that the Democratic Party needs to do more in the next two years to engage a whole new base of voters, saying that the campaign should revolve around the 50th anniversary of the Voting Rights Act.

She said she would be spending Thursday afternoon engaging in some post-election activities, like making a final selection for the next chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.

Pelosi also made another pitch for her close friend and fellow Californian Anna G. Eshoo to be the next ranking member on Energy and Commerce. The Steering and Policy Committee is set to vote between Eshoo and Rep. Frank Pallone Jr. of New Jersey next week.

“I think, sometimes, in the course of our legislative lives, a person comes along who’s the perfect fit to take us into the future,” said Pelosi of Eshoo.

AFP Photo/Chip Somodevilla

House Democrats Look For Answers, Accountability After Midterm Losses

House Democrats Look For Answers, Accountability After Midterm Losses

By Emma Dumain, CQ Roll Call (MCT)

WASHINGTON — House Democrats came back to work Wednesday still reeling from last week’s bruising election results — and they’re looking for answers about what went wrong.

But for many lawmakers, it isn’t enough to blame the loss of at least a dozen House seats on an unpopular president, gerrymandered districts and a host of other factors beyond the party’s control. They want their leadership to do some soul-searching, and so far it hasn’t happened.

Several Democratic lawmakers and aides told CQ Roll Call they chafed at the postmortem conference call Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi convened on Nov. 6, in which she, Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Chairman Steve Israel of New York and other senior members sought to deflect responsibility for the election results that gave House Republicans their largest majority in nearly a century.

A few members challenged Pelosi for her suggestion that voter suppression accounted for low Democratic turnout, a source on the call said.

A handful of Democratic aides said there was general frustration that the DCCC, at the eleventh hour, had to shift precious dollars around to help incumbents who should have been safe — or should have been warned by the DCCC much earlier to get back to their districts and protect their seats.

Meanwhile, Rep. Bill Pascrell Jr. (D-NY) was telling his local newspaper the party’s messaging needed to change. Democrats wouldn’t win elections, he said, talking about Pelosi’s favored “When Women Succeed, America Succeeds” agenda.

“Where the hell were the Democrats? What were we talking about?” he said. “We’re losing white men. Why are we not talking about that? Why are we always concerned with what’s the politically correct thing to say?”

“Where’s the humility?” a senior Democratic aide lamented. “Don’t we want to self-assess here?”

Over the weekend, it looked like party leaders were starting to come around to the idea. Democratic National Committee Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz of Florida announced that a special panel of “key party stakeholders and experts” would perform a “top-to-bottom assessment”of what went wrong this cycle and how to do better next time.

The news was welcomed by Rep. Gerald E. Connolly (D-VA), who tweeted that Wasserman Schultz “is right: Dems need a thorough, honest analysis of what went wrong. … Business as usual is not the clarion call we need now.”

Even the House’s third-ranking Democrat, Assistant Leader James E. Clyburn of South Carolina, acknowledged there should be some examination of how the messaging strategy was executed.

“A couple of weeks before the election, my travels around the country, in and out of these congressional districts, led me to the conclusion that our message, or a lack thereof, was causing a problem,” Clyburn told CQ Roll Call on Monday. “Where was the Democratic message in this campaign? People couldn’t tell you.”

A leadership aide pushed back against the thesis that House Democrats lacked a compelling narrative on the campaign trail, and that leaders are required to self-flagellate to prove they’re disappointed.

The aide told CQ Roll Call that the caucus had numerous opportunities to collaborate on a party platform ahead of the midterms, with Pelosi and Israel holding listening sessions to hone talking points and messaging strategy. The result was the “Middle Class Jumpstart” economic agenda, which House Democrats promised to implement within their first 100 days of regaining control of the chamber.

Attendance was always high at these special planning meetings, the leadership aide continued; if members now are saying they didn’t like the message or appreciate the tone, it’s not because they never had the chance to make their feelings known.Also, grousing about a lack of message, the aide said, is par for the course for Democrats every two years.

At least one tradition, however, is missing from this year’s election aftermath: Calls for an imminent change at the leaders’ table.It’s a far cry from 2010 when Democrats lost control of the chamber and there was considerable chatter about whether it the time had come for Pelosi to step aside after 12 years in leadership.

For the time being, even ambitious lawmakers clamoring to move up in the House’s party power structure are keeping their powder dry, perhaps expecting 2016 to be the year where a sea change finally takes place at the very top.

There are also fewer members in elected office willing to risk even a symbolic challenge of Pelosi, Clyburn or Minority Whip Steny H. Hoyer of Maryland.There is now a shortage of fiscally conservative Blue Dog Democrats willing to “take one for the team,” as ex-Rep. Heath Shuler of North Carolina did four years ago.

But it doesn’t mean that Democrats don’t want to see some changes. That’s especially true for the dozens of members who were elected in 2012 eager to compromise and get things done, even if it meant working with Republicans.

One member of that class, Rep. Michelle Lujan Grisham (D-NM), said there needs to be a “whole different level of engagement” between members and leadership going forward, and she predicted the caucus would be confronted with the challenge of evaluating the status quo.

“I am ready to talk and have an action plan ready on Wednesday,” Lujan Grisham told CQ Roll Call on Nov. 8, adding that she wanted to see the 2016 cycle built around talking points that focused more on positive ideas and less on partisan finger-pointing.

In a separate interview on Tuesday, first-term Rep. Patrick Murphy, D-Fla., one of the most vulnerable incumbents of the cycle, said members were undeniably getting antsy with business-as-usual in the senior ranks.

“I think you’re going to have some of the more senior members frustrated about when we’re going to get the House back,” said Murphy, “and you got some younger, newer members who kind of want to be set free and don’t want to be tied down as much.

“They want to talk about the things that got them elected in the first place,” he continued. “This is a new generation of leadership.”

AFP Photo/Chip Somodevilla

New Republicans Will Strengthen Boehner’s Hand In 114th Congress

New Republicans Will Strengthen Boehner’s Hand In 114th Congress

By Emma Dumain, CQ Roll Call

Republican gains in the House Tuesday aren’t expected to top what the party was able to accomplish in 2010, but even modest inroads will change the status quo on Capitol Hill.
Here’s a rundown of how the 114th Congress will be different if House Republicans, as expected, expand their majority.

— Bragging rights. Republicans will have them. They might have been surpassed by Democrats in fundraising and spending, but none of that matters if, on Wednesday morning, the GOP wakes up with an even bigger hold on the chamber.

— A more diverse conference. The midterms are likely to give the House GOP the demographics boost it’s been craving, especially heading into a presidential election cycle. Two of the current 19 House Republican women aren’t returning in the 114th, but the party is poised to make up for that number or even surpass it. There’s a likelihood of the House GOP gaining up to three Latinos, possibly two African-Americans (one the first black Republican woman to ever serve in Congress) and, in another party milestone, the first Republican to run for office as an openly gay candidate.

— More wildcards. A few of the new Republicans have already indicated they have no intention of supporting John Boehner and the GOP establishment in Washington. They could vote against him for speaker, latch onto the “Hell No” caucus or attend Sen. Ted Cruz’s occasional pizza parties.

— A stronger Boehner.The anti-Boehner wing may land a few new recruits, but most of the new members joining the GOP caucus are more conventional Republicans than the tea party crowd of 2010. That could make it easier for Boehner and his lieutenants to shore up support for legislation on the House floor and more members to work with on big-ticket items that have been nail-biters in the past four years. Getting to 218 might still be a struggle, but it will be easier to find support without having to rely on Democrats. Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and company are likely to be less inclined to lend a hand, especially if the Republicans win control of the Senate and the stakes for failure to pass something such as a government funding bill become higher.

— Another vote to repeal Obamacare? House Republicans have voted more than 40 times to dismantle different pieces of the Affordable Care Act, but they have only taken a few stand-alone votes to fully strike down the 2010 health care law. One was scheduled within the first six months of the 113th Congress to give new members a chance to go on the record as opposing the act. If there are enough new GOP lawmakers in the 114th Congress, leaders could be persuaded to schedule another symbolic vote.

— More Republican job opportunities. When a party suffers an electoral loss, the staffer unemployment rate goes up; the opposite, of course, happens when a party enjoys a big win. If House Republicans win a slew of seats, the cafeteria of the Longworth House Office Building becomes a hot spot for GOP job interviews with current aides looking for promotions in new member offices. Republican-minded men and women who have long waited for their chance to snag a coveted Hill job are also in luck.

— More freshmen to wrangle on orientation week. Exactly one week after Election Day, freshly elected members-to-be will descend on Capitol Hill for freshmen orientation, a crash course in how to be a member of Congress. The Committee on House Administration organizes the schedule of activities down to the most minute details, but seminars on chamber ethics rules and tours of the Capitol complex compete with future lawmakers’ eagerness to rub shoulders with new colleagues, court chairmen for committee assignments and in turn be courted for their votes in leadership elections that also take place that week. The more Republicans who win on Tuesday, the more tenuous the headcounts during orientation events — and the more chaotic the lottery for office assignments.

AFP Photo/Nicholas Kamm

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Energy And Commerce Democratic Rivals Battle To The Wire

Energy And Commerce Democratic Rivals Battle To The Wire

By Emma Dumain, CQ Roll Call (MCT)

WASHINGTON — Since January, Reps. Frank Pallone Jr. and Anna G. Eshoo have been positioning themselves as the obvious choice to be the top Democrat on the powerful Energy and Commerce Committee.

But after ten months of cutting checks and courting colleagues, they’re still not finished campaigning to replace the panel’s current ranking member, retiring Rep. Henry A. Waxman of California.

Members of the House Democratic Caucus won’t settle the hotly contested race until late November at the earliest, meaning Pallone of New Jersey and Eshoo of California will have to stay on the offensive, showing they’re both team players and power players who are ready — and able — to help their friends out.

Along the way, they are pulling pages from the same playbook — with a few key exceptions.

They’ve both posted big fundraising numbers in Federal Election Commission filings and shown their willingness throughout the cycle to spend generously on House Democratic candidates and incumbents, drawing from respective congressional and leadership political action committees.

According to the most recent numbers made public, Pallone has spent roughly $605,000 on House races since launching his bid to succeed Waxman, while Eshoo has doled out approximately $482,000 for the same purposes in the same period.

They’ve given money to many of the same candidates, even those not in especially tight races, as shows of goodwill or perhaps in efforts to woo undecideds.

They’ve doled out funds to Debbie Dingell of Michigan, who is running to replace her husband, retiring Rep. John D. Dingell, who just happened to be the longtime top Democrat on Energy and Commerce before being usurped by Waxman in 2008.

And they’ve written checks to Congressional Black Caucus members Steven Horsford of Nevada and Gwen Moore of Wisconsin, plus Chairwoman Marcia L. Fudge of Ohio. Support from CBC members could be critical for Eshoo in particular, as they tend to defer to seniority in voting for committee leadership positions. (Pallone is the current No. 3 on Energy and Commerce, while Eshoo is No. 5.)

Both have also given extensively to individuals in the toughest election bids of the 2014 cycle.

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee has designated 29 candidates in the “Red to Blue” program and 24 “Frontline” incumbents. Pallone has given to all of them at some point in the past year, according to an analysis by CQ Roll Call.

Eshoo, meanwhile, has written checks to every “Red to Blue” candidate but three: James Lee Witt of Arkansas, Kevin Strouse of Pennsylvania and Jim Mowrer of Iowa. More glaring, she has excluded direct donations to seven of her most vulnerable colleagues: Ron Barber of Arizona, John Barrow of Georgia, Carol Shea-Porter of New Hampshire, Pete Gallego of Texas and Illinois freshmen Reps. Bill Enyart, Cheri Bustos and Brad Schneider.

“It looks like she’s running for ranking member and he’s running for chairman,” a senior Democratic aide, whose boss is supporting Pallone, quipped.

The seven members who have not gotten checks from Eshoo also happen to be public supporters of Pallone, and their exclusion has caused some to wonder whether the slight was intentional.

In an email to CQ Roll Call, an Eshoo campaign spokesman familiar with the lawmaker’s fundraising and DCCC contributions this cycle sought to downplay the significance: “Congresswoman Eshoo has contributed and raised close to $1.5 million for the DCCC, the lion’s share of which benefits Frontline Members. She has also directly contributed and raised in excess of three quarters of a million dollars for Red to Blue candidates and Frontline Members.”

Money is, of course, just one part of the equation. Since Waxman announced his retirement at the end of January, Eshoo and Pallone have both been working to expand their inner circles and bases of support. After all, the House Democrats of the 114th Congress will be the ones deciding, before the year’s end, who gets the slot.

Eshoo has been able to depend on Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi of California to be her most vocal supporter: One of Eshoo’s closest friends, Pelosi has sent out two endorsement letters on her behalf, a rare gesture for a member of leadership. Other powerful Democrats of the California delegation have been whipping for her, including Rep. Mike Thompson and Education and the Workforce ranking member George Miller, who is retiring this year but remains influential within the caucus. (Eshoo has shown appreciation for Thompson and Miller with campaign contributions.)

Though he has not been as outspoken as Pelosi, Minority Whip Steny H. Hoyer of Maryland has been working actively behind-the-scenes for Pallone.

Before the October recess, Pallone showed some clout by orchestrating the release of a “Dear Colleague” letter, signed by 50 members of the Pallone whip team, including CBC and Hispanic Caucus members — progressives who respect the seniority system — and some more moderate lawmakers as well.

In addition to handing out money, both Eshoo and Pallone are traveling in the final days of the campaign season. Pallone is traversing the map throughout October, said a source close to the New Jersey Democrat. By the month’s end, he will have made stops in battleground districts in Florida, Arizona, Illinois and New York, plus a goodwill visit with colleagues in Texas.

Eshoo is doing some stumping, too, recently participating in an event for female Democratic candidates with Pelosi and potential 2016 presidential candidate Hillary Rodham Clinton. But her spokesman preferred to highlight her legislative vision rather than her travel schedule — her speech on climate change at the Supply Chain Advocacy Summit, for instance, or a penned op-ed on “America’s Scientific Future.”

“Congresswoman Eshoo has always said, ‘Good policy is good politics,’ ” the spokesman said.

AFP Photo/Saul Loeb

Retiring Bachmann Signals She’s Still In The Game

Retiring Bachmann Signals She’s Still In The Game

By Emma Dumain, CQ Roll Call

Rep. Michele Bachmann may be retiring at the end of this year, but the woman who rose to prominence by founding the Congressional Tea Party Caucus in 2010 and running for president in 2012 isn’t leaving Washington, D.C., quietly.

In a speech and brief question-and-answer session Wednesday morning at the Heritage Foundation — billed as one of her last public speaking engagements as a member of the House of Representatives — the Minnesota Republican refreshed her audience on the history of the Tea Party movement and made a case for continuing the fight against higher taxes and bigger government.

But Bachmann also made a handful of policy recommendations that indicate she plans to remain engaged in the political debate, albeit from outside Capitol Hill.

When asked to weigh in on whether Congress should go “small ball” or “big ball” in the event Republicans regain control of the House and win power in the Senate, Bachmann said the GOP should be “bold,” and she cited an overhaul of the tax code as a top priority.

“You change it now. Immediately. And you either go with the flat tax, or you go with the national consumption tax. You figure it out,” Bachmann said. “I’ll lead the debate. You want someone to lead the debate? I’ll lead the debate. Lead the debate and do it because guess what, folks? This isn’t working.”

Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) has said he wants to take on a rewrite of the nation’s tax law in earnest in the 114th Congress.

Slamming President Barack Obama’s foreign policy as broken and ineffective, Bachmann said Congress should return to next month’s lame-duck session and fast-track bills introduced by herself and Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) that would revoke passports and denaturalize American citizens who have fought with the Islamic State.

And while she noted she has “the distinction of being the member of Congress who has raised more for a House seat than any other member of Congress” — over $13 million in a single cycle, she said — she bemoaned the lack of caps on campaign spending.

“That’s crazy money,” she said. “It’s crazy a candidate should have to raise that kind of money.

“Money is buying influence, rather than real people going to the polls,” Bachmann continued, adding that there should be caps on how much money can be spent, and that ideas should win elections, not “someone’s crummy 20-second soundbite on TV.”

She didn’t, however, elaborate on what sort of overhaul of campaign finance laws she supported.

Bachmann also took a question — from an audience member who praised the lawmaker’s work on behalf of the “Christian coalition” — about whether Congress was aware that if it passes an immigration overhaul legislation, all of the United States could become like Southern California: a “third-world dump.”

In answering, the congresswoman was careful to separate herself from the questioner’s tone.

“No human being ever would be considered a dump,” Bachmann said. “That would never happen. All human beings have worth, and all human beings have value.”

Bachmann blamed the nation’s border security problems on the policies of the Obama administration. She blasted Obama’s plans to change immigration laws through executive order and called his decision to wait to do so until after the midterm elections “cynical.”

AFP Photo/ Chip Somodevilla