Obama Fires Up House Democrats

Obama Fires Up House Democrats

By Emma Dumain and Matt Fuller, CQ-Roll Call (TNS)

PHILADELPHIA — A fiery President Barack Obama addressed House Democrats on Thursday night, making the case that, while there’s more work to do in restoring the economy, Democrats can’t be shy about what they’ve already accomplished.

His remarks, delivered in the ballroom of a Sheraton hotel on the second evening of the House Democratic retreat, were tailored to the caucus’s new strategy: focus the party’s message on growing the middle class and take full credit for the nation’s economic recovery of the past six years.

“Obviously we were all disappointed by the outcome of this election. There were a lot of reasons for it, and I’m happy to take some of the blame,” Obama told the assembled members, their families and their staffers. “One thing I’m positive about is, when we’re shy about what we care about, when we’re defensive about what we’ve accomplished, when we don’t stand up straight and proud … ”

He then began to list, his voice rising to a campaign stump speech crescendo as members rose to their feet in wild applause, accomplishments in health insurance, in immigration legislation and in “middle-class economics.”

He said he would “happily veto” Republican legislation to undo the Affordable Care Act _ not surprising, but a crowd pleaser nonetheless — along with legislation to roll back the financial regulatory overhaul bill known as Dodd-Frank and a measure targeting his executive orders on immigration.

He slammed Republicans for risking a Homeland Security Department shutdown over those executive actions: “These are the guys concerned about borders, about terrorism? Now you want to make a political point?”

And Obama crowed about proving the critics — namely, Republicans — wrong.

“It’s pretty rare when you have two visions, a vigorous debate and then you test who’s right,” Obama said. “And the record shows that we were right.”

In a nod to the middle-class economics message, Obama said Republicans now seem to acknowledge — in rhetoric, at least — the need to help the middle class and address income stratification. He made specific mention to one “former presidential candidate” on the Republican side, Mitt Romney, who “suddenly is just deeply concerned about poverty.”

While Obama poked fun at Republicans, he said Democrats “need to stand up … and not be defensive about what we believe in.”

In closing he stepped back from the podium and took a drink of water. “I’m fired up!” he said in a reference to a famous catch phrase of his 2008 presidential run.

An ensuing question-and-answer period was closed to the press, so there’s no telling what specific questions House Democrats planned to ask the president. The speech itself, however, was light on specific policy proposals, with no mention of issues like trade or a tax overhaul.

Obama, with no more elections to win and two years left to go, kept things friendly and appeared to relish his time in the spotlight: He cracked jokes about Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi’s perfectly coiffed hair, poked fun at Caucus Vice-Chairman Joe Crowley’s imperfectly coiffed hair and wondered about the future of new DCCC Chairman Ben Ray Lujan’s hair.

Obama said he remembered a time when he, himself, was young and attractive. “Let’s see how long that lasts,” Obama said of the 42-year-old, dark-haired Lujan. “He’ll have hair like Steve Israel,” Lujan’s silver-maned predecessor.

In the week since his State of the Union address, Democrats who have felt demoralized since the party’s midterm drubbing have said they think their president has a renewed vigor to fight with them to win back seats in 2016. They say his speech touched on the important issues they want to focus on in the next cycle and feel there is a renewed partnership.

The honeymoon could be short-lived with substantial legislative challenges on the horizon, especially when it comes to giving the White House fast-track authority to enter into trade negotiations.

But at least on Thursday night, House Democrats seemed ready to believe that they and Obama were squarely on the same team.

“I’m going to be out there making the case every single day,” he said, “and I hope you join me.”

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)

House GOP Floats Multipronged Approach To Avert Government Shutdown

House GOP Floats Multipronged Approach To Avert Government Shutdown

By Emma Dumain and Matt Fuller, CQ Roll Call (TNS)

WASHINGTON — House Republican leaders took members’ temperatures Tuesday morning on a multipart plan to avert a government shutdown and hold President Barack Obama accountable for his recent unilateral changes to immigration law.

GOP lawmakers are still processing the proposals and plan to whip votes later in the day. Democrats, meanwhile, were unwilling to say explicitly whether they would be willing to vote for anything other than a “clean” spending bill.

To prevent a lapse in funding when the current stopgap government spending bill expires Dec. 11, Republicans intend to put forward a package of 11 of the 12 annual appropriations bills to float federal agencies and operations through the remainder of the fiscal year.

The outstanding appropriations bill, which funds the Department of Homeland Security, would only be funded through early next year.

The DHS houses the offices that would do the bulk of the implementation of Obama’s immigration action; isolating the agency’s funding in such a way would signal that House Republicans are serious about continuing to fight, in a piece of must-pass legislation, the president’s executive orders.

That plan would remove the immigration fight from the debate on the current must-pass legislation facing Congress: an overall spending bill needed to avoid a government shutdown before Christmas.

In exchange for supporting the “cromnibus,” House Republican leaders will allow members to vote on legislation “disapproving” of Obama’s breach of power in regard to his unilateral actions on immigration.

Sponsored by Rep. Ted Yoho (R-FL), the measure would “make it clear that the Executive Branch does not have the authority” to defer deportations for certain undocumented immigrants living in the United States. It could come to the floor as early as Thursday.

Rep. John L. Mica (R-FL) suggested a third tack that could ultimately be taken — one that would have a litigation component, potentially on top of the existing lawsuit pending against the president for his changes to the health care law.

Emerging from the closed-door meeting Tuesday morning, some of the most hard-line conservatives in the conference suggested the framework laid out by leadership wasn’t going to be enough to compel them to vote for the government funding component.

“The Yoho bill is OK, but (Senate Majority Leader) Harry Reid’s gonna put it in his desk drawer,” said Rep. Steve King (R-IA) who is one of the most vocal opponents of the executive action.

“I did not hear anything in the GOP conference that persuaded me that there is a sincere effort to stop the president’s illegal granting of amnesty to roughly 10 million illegal immigrants,” said Rep. Mo Brooks (R-AL), a King ally.

At a news conference following the meeting, Speaker John A. Boehner (R-OH) said Republicans would continue to discuss their options in the months ahead — in January, all of Capitol Hill will be controlled by the GOP — and he said no final decisions have been made about a short-term strategy.

“This is a serious breach of our Constitution,” Boehner said of the executive orders. “It’s a serious threat to our system of government, and frankly, we have limited options and limited abilities to deal with it directly. But that’s why we’re continuing to talk to our members.”

House Democrats appeared to be keeping their powder dry on Tuesday morning. Democratic Caucus Chairman Xavier Becerra of California told reporters that rumblings across the aisle felt reminiscent of the lead-up to the government shutdown last year. “It sounds like the seeds of the same B movie we saw last year are being planted again,” he said. Adding, that Republicans should not play a “social agenda game” when it comes to funding the government.

Democratic Caucus Vice Chairman Joseph Crowley of New York said Democrats would not support a “partial” shutdown of the government, and Rep. Kathy Castor (D-FL) said targeting the DHS “was risky business.” None of them would say whether they were prepared to vote “no.”

At a pen-and-pad briefing with reporters, Rep. Steny H. Hoyer (D-MD) said he would wait to determine what he would do until he saw specific language: “I’m not a hard ‘no’ or ‘yes,’ ” he said, though he said the cromnibus was, generally speaking, “a game” and “not good policy.”

Ultimately, how Democrats respond to the cromnibus depends on whether House Republicans can deliver the votes on their own. If King, Brooks and others decide to withhold their support — and enough others hold out as well — GOP leaders could be unable to get to 218 votes in their own conference, meaning they would turn to Democrats for help. Those Democrats would be largely disinclined to assist in that effort, using their voting cards as leverage to get a better deal for their party.

Democrats could swallow the bitter pill in the event the Senate takes the deal, or should the White House decline to issue a veto threat. On Monday, White House press secretary Josh Earnest wouldn’t preclude the possibility of Obama agreeing to a short-term extension of DHS funding, telling reporters the administration would wait and see what House Republicans actually brought to the floor.

(Clark Mindock, Emily Ethridge and Tamar Hallerman contributed to this report.)

AFP Photo/Paul J. Richards

GOP Gavel Fights: 11 House Committee Chairmanships In Play

GOP Gavel Fights: 11 House Committee Chairmanships In Play

By Emma Dumain and Matt Fuller, CQ Roll Call (MCT)

WASHINGTON — Almost every House member is on the stump this month, wrapping up re-election bids, with most cruising to new terms and a handful on both sides of the aisle scrambling to hang on to their jobs. But for a select few GOP lawmakers — those actively seeking committee chairmanships — the final days before Nov. 4 are as much about lining up support among colleagues as they are about connecting with voters.

Every two years, after the Election Day dust settles, members return to Capitol Hill for a lame-duck session that includes the selection of colleagues to serve as senior lawmakers on the chamber’s standing committees during the new Congress.

Republicans, widely expected to retain the majority this cycle, will be particularly busy during the lame duck, scheduled to begin Nov. 12, when it comes to doling out committee leadership appointments. Thanks to retirements, possible assignment shuffles and a 20-year rule capping panel leadership at three terms, as many as 11 out of 21 committees could see new chairmen in the 114th Congress.

A 12th committee could even be at play, if term-limited Agriculture Chairman Frank D. Lucas of Oklahoma decides to challenge Jeb Hensarling’s grip on the Financial Services gavel, as he recently suggested he might.

For the decidedly open chairmanships, some lawmakers are expected to win their desired posting without competition, while others will be facing off against their peers. All of the slots are filled by a secret ballot vote of members on the Republican Steering Committee, comprised of party leaders, top-tier panel chairmen and regional representatives.

Here’s a rundown of 11 committee gavels that are up for grabs, and which members stand to snag them.

Oversight and Government Reform. Perhaps no race is as contentious and unclear. With Darrell Issa of California term-limited, at least four members are actively vying for the gavel: Jason Chaffetz of Utah, Michael R. Turner of Ohio, Jim Jordan of Ohio and John L. Mica of Florida. Chaffetz has been making a compelling case to colleagues that his singular focus on Oversight and Government Reform could be valuable in racking up points against the Obama administration, and his efforts to court the panel’s ranking Democrat, Elijah E. Cummings of Maryland, have seen some success. But Turner is also making a strong case, and while Speaker John A. Boehner is expected to stay out of it, the fellow Ohioan could be the speaker’s favorite. Of course, another Ohio Republican, Jordan, could cut into Turner’s home-state advantage. Mica faces the longest odds: He has a reputation for being an unreliable party spokesman and members worry that his quirks would be a distraction — and an embarrassment.

Intelligence. While the speaker’s pick for a committee chairmen always matters, it matters most on three committees: Intelligence, Ethics and Administration. The speaker actually selects a member for those top panel spots, and that’s good news for Devin Nunes of California. Nunes is close to Boehner, and he’s made his desire for the Intelligence spot no secret. Of course, Peter T. King of New York is also going for it, as is Mike Pompeo of Kansas. But aides say Nunes is likely to get the nod over those competitors. The only wild card is Jeff Miller of Florida, who has more seniority than any of those competitors but currently heads the Veterans’ Affairs Committee.

Veterans’ Affairs. This is a race only insofar as current Chairman Miller might be looking to move up. By almost every GOP account, Miller has done a solid job dealing with a number of high-profile issues, and he’ll likely stay put. However, if he were to make a bid for the Intelligence chairmanship and get it, there’d be plenty of suitors for the VA gavel. Among them: the current vice chairman of the committee, Gus Bilirakis of Florida, Doug Lamborn of Colorado, Phil Roe of Tennessee and Bill Flores of Texas.

Education and the Workforce. Rep. Paul D. Ryan was the most recent member to get a waiver from leadership to serve a fourth term as a committee chairman; Rep. John Kline of Minnesota is poised to be the next. The current chairman of Education and the Workforce wants to stay, and GOP sources say the chair is his to keep, especially given his close relationship with Boehner. Should Kline not succeed getting a term-limit extension, Rep. Virginia Foxx of North Carolina is next in line.

Ways and Means. Rep. Dave Camp of Michigan is retiring, but his six-year term limit as the top Republican on the powerful tax-writing panel was coming up, anyway. Conventional wisdom holds that the gavel will go to now-Budget chairman Ryan, an all-around shining star of the Republican Party whom members love and are inclined to reward, within reason. It doesn’t mean that Ryan will be running unopposed: Texan Kevin Brady is one notch above Ryan in seniority on the committee, and his office confirms he’s still in the game.

Budget. Assuming Ryan moves over to Ways and Means, the heir apparent on Budget is Vice-Chairman Tom Price of Georgia. A former chairman of the Republican Study Committee and Republican Policy Committee, he lost his leadership seat at the table in 2012 when Speaker John A. Boehner asked him to bow out of the race against Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers of Washington to lead the GOP Conference. The speaker gets to nominate the Budget chairman, and he surely owes Price a favor.

• Natural Resources. The overwhelming favorite is Rob Bishop of Utah. While he’s not the most senior, he’s positioned himself as the most likely. Don Young of Alaska has already served his stints as a chairman, and Louie Gohmert of Texas, while certainly interested, isn’t apt to get much support from the speaker or the rest of the Steering Committee for being a consistent thorn in leadership’s side. That leaves Bishop next in line, and he has proved himself in the eyes of Republican leaders to be a capable legislator and team player.

Armed Services. Rep. Howard “Buck” McKeon is retiring at the end of this year, leaving the Armed Services chairmanship available. It will probably get scooped up by Rep. Mac Thornberry of Texas, who vied — unsuccessfully — for the post in the past. Thornberry also isn’t hurt by McKeon’s implicit endorsement. He could face a challenge from J. Randy Forbes of Virginia, who aides say is “seriously considering” a bid for the gavel.

Small Business. With Sam Graves of Missouri term-limited, the natural heir is Steve Chabot of Ohio. Chabot is the most senior Republican on the committee, and he once held the ranking member spot before he lost re-election in 2008. Chabot came back to Congress in the 2010 wave, and his seniority came with him. There could still be a race for the position, however, with Scott Tipton of Colorado, Richard Hanna of New York and Chris Collins of New York all showing some potential interest.

Agriculture. With Lucas of Oklahoma ending his six-year run as chairman, lawmakers and aides expect K. Michael Conaway of Texas to be his replacement. Conaway isn’t the most senior member on the panel, but he’s the biggest team player of the four members ahead of him (plus, Robert W. Goodlatte of Virginia is already the chairman on Judiciary). Conaway will likely have backing from Boehner, who appointed Conaway in 2012 to lead the Ethics Committee.

Ethics. This committee’s leadership — and membership — is by appointment only, and it’s not a posting for which any member lobbies. Assuming Conaway moves to Agriculture after just one term as Ethics chairman, Boehner could elevate a current panel member to succeed him, or he could look elsewhere in the conference. While it’s not a desired assignment, it’s still considered an honor to be given leadership responsibilities by the speaker.

Photo: Gage Skidmore via Flickr