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Members Of Congress Call For Putin To Halt Intervention In Ukraine

By Lisa Mascaro and Michael A. Memoli, Tribune Washington Bureau

WASHINGTON — Temporarily setting aside the usual partisan sniping, lawmakers in Congress turned their sights Friday on Russian President Vladimir Putin, calling on Moscow to end the separatist conflict in the aftermath of the Malaysian jetliner disaster.

Rep. Ed Royce (R-CA), chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said Russia must bring about a cease-fire to allow investigators into the region.

“The only thing holding it up is cooperation from Russia,” Royce said Friday on CNBC. “Those separatists take their orders and get their weapons, most of their weapons, from Russia. Russia needs to cooperate now.”

Sen. Richard Durbin of Illinois, the No. 2 Democrat in the Senate, said it was time for Putin to “once and for all rein in his mercenaries” and defuse a crisis in Ukraine that is “largely of his making.”

“Enough is enough!” tweeted Rep. John Shimkus (R-IL). “Russia’s continued meddling in the internal affairs of its neighbors is deplorable and must be stopped.”

Sen. Chris Murphy (D-CT) said the United States’ allies in Europe “need to increase their Russia sanctions now.”

“If this doesn’t wake up our European allies, hard to imagine what will,” Murphy wrote in a tweet.

Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-VA), took particular note of the deaths of many researchers on board the downed airliner that President Barack Obama said were working on AIDS and HIV issues. Connolly called their deaths “another tragic loss of Putin’s folly.”

“We must keep the pressure on Russia and Russian-aligned troops and stand firm with our allies in support of the people of Ukraine,” said Rep. John K. Delaney (D-MD).

AFP Photo / Maxim Shipenkov

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Balance Is Seen In New GOP Leadership In House

By Michael A. Memoli and Lisa Mascaro, Tribune Washington Bureau

WASHINGTON — Rep. Kevin McCarthy’s (R-Calif.) election as House Majority Leader continued one of the swiftest political ascents in congressional history and marked another triumph for establishment Republican forces over the party’s conservative flank.

House Republicans chose the Bakersfield, Calif., congressman to replace Rep. Eric Cantor of Virginia as their leader in a secret ballot Thursday, slightly more than a week after Cantor’s shocking defeat in a primary election.

McCarthy’s elevation from Majority Whip represents a change of style, but likely not the shift to a more confrontational approach some conservatives had called for. McCarthy is widely considered more genial than Cantor and has closer personal ties with many members, but worked closely with him and shares many of his views.

To replace McCarthy in the leadership’s third-ranking job, GOP lawmakers chose Rep. Steve Scalise of Louisiana, chairman of the largest organized group of conservative lawmakers in the House. His victory was welcomed by allies of House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio), who viewed it as a nod to the restless right that could balance out the leadership team.

In brief remarks to reporters after the votes, surrounded by other members of the leadership, McCarthy promised to make sure House Republicans had “the courage to lead with the wisdom to listen.”

“We’ll turn this country around,” he vowed.

Scalise said he was “looking forward to bringing a fresh new voice to our leadership table.” He defeated Illinois Rep. Peter Roskam, the Chief Deputy Whip, and Indiana Rep. Marlin Stutzman after only one round of voting.

Though policy fights that can split Republicans loom in the months ahead — a promised vote on an alternative to President Barack Obama’s health care law, a new government funding measure due by Oct. 1, and a possible fight over the fate of the Export-Import Bank — those seeking to change the House leadership more dramatically proved unable to mount more than a rhetorical challenge.

McCarthy’s sole challenger was Rep. Raul R. Labrador (R-Idaho), a second-term lawmaker who announced his bid only last Friday. His support was limited to some of the House’s most conservative members.

“You would think that people who have been plotting this big takeover of leadership for months and months and months or years, that you would at least have a plan to move forward,” said Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.), long a critic of what he now calls the “exotic club” of tea party members in the GOP ranks.

In a gesture to promote unity, Labrador released his votes after the outcome was announced in the closed-door meeting, saying the vote should be unanimous. But some of the lawmakers who have vexed leadership in recent years said McCarthy should not assume he would hold the post for long.

“It may not be a stable arrangement,” said Rep. Thomas Massie (R-Ky). “Let’s give him a chance, two to three months in front of the cameras, see how he does.”

Rep. Justin Amash (R-Mich.), said he already had heard from other members who wanted to pose another challenge in November, even though he acknowledged that such an election would be more difficult.

“Today was our best chance to change things at the top,” Amash said. “I don’t think the results today are going to satisfy ordinary Americans. I’m not talking about Tea Party — ordinary Americans, regular Republicans.”

More moderate Republicans saw McCarthy’s election as a clear victory for their side.

“Some of our members have to understand that if the job of the Majority Leader were to get everybody to vote no, then the other guy would have won,” said Rep. Charlie Dent (R-Pa.), one of the few moderates in the caucus.

Still, even those who seemed pleased with the outcome appeared uncertain about the new leadership’s durability.

“It’s the leadership for the next couple of months,” said Rep. Joe L. Barton (R-Texas). “We really do have new energy, new unity — perhaps.”

House Republicans will not have long to decide whether they’re happy with the new team. Cantor leaves the Majority Leader’s office at the end of July. Because of the long August recess and time off for campaigning in the fall, the House has only 12 workdays scheduled between then and the date on which new elections would take place the week after the midterm balloting.

McCarthy, 49, will be the first Californian to serve in the House’s second-ranking position when he formally assumes the role.

First elected in 2006, he has served since 2011 as the House Majority Whip.

His rapid climb is taking place at a time of significant turnover in Congress. McCarthy has served less time in the House than any of the chamber’s committee chairs. Boehner had served for 15 years before he became majority leader in 2006. McCarthy was a still a staffer for then-Rep. Bill Thomas when Boehner first joined the leadership ranks.

McCarthy served for four years in the California Assembly, including two years as Minority Leader, before he was elected to Congress from a district that includes his hometown of Bakersfield and most of the Antelope Valley. He played a key role in recruiting a class of candidates in 2010 that helped Republicans win back control of the House, and has raised millions to help keep the party in power.

Boehner has said he intends to run for a third term as Speaker if, as expected, Republicans hold the majority after November’s midterm election. McCarthy’s selection Thursday makes him the heir apparent if Boehner gives up the post after 2015.

Photo: Win McNamee via AFP

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Tea Party Challenger To Take On McCarthy For GOP Leader

By Lisa Mascaro and Michael A. Memoli, Tribune Washington Bureau

WASHINGTON — Conservative Rep. Raúl Labrador of Idaho will challenge California’s Kevin McCarthy for the House leadership, a long-shot bid backed by outside Tea Party’ groups to boost a red-state Republican to majority leader.

Labrador said Friday he was jumping into the race because the message from Majority Leader Eric Cantor’s unexpected loss in his Virginia primary this week was that “Americans are looking for a change in the status quo.”

“Americans don’t believe their leaders in Washington are listening, and now is the time to change that,” said Labrador, a second-term Republican who was elected on the 2010 Tea Party wave.

“I want to create a vision of growth and opportunity for everyone and start getting to work for the American people.”

The race is McCarthy’s to lose, House vote counters agree, but some outside groups, including FreedomWorks and the Campaign for Liberty, urged Labrador to pose a challenge to the Californian, whom they view as not sufficiently conservative for House leadership. More prominent tea party groups, though, are not outwardly involved.

The House’s most conservative members have frequently expressed a desire for leadership that would more directly reflect their populist views. But although red-state conservatives make up a majority of the House Republicans ranks, they have been unable to organize themselves into a governing force. The splintering in their ranks has thwarted efforts to challenge McCarthy.

Two other Republicans, Texas Reps. Jeb Hensarling and Pete Sessions, passed on the opportunity to run, despite enthusiasm from fellow members of the large and powerful Texas delegation.

Any election battle is bound to expose fractures within the GOP. In dropping out Thursday, Sessions said a run would have created an “unnecessary and painful division.”

The four-term McCarthy is not the first choice among the most conservative lawmakers, but his affable personality and ability to foster relationships have put him on a path for a fast rise to the majority leader spot — a position never before held by a California Republican. He would be in line to be House speaker if Ohio’s John Boehner were to step down while the GOP retains a majority in the chamber.

The secret-ballot election for majority leader and other party posts is set for Thursday. Boehner has sought to avoid a protracted battle, which Democrats could use to portray the GOP as a bruised party in disarray.

The speedy election schedule plays to McCarthy’s benefit because he already holds the party’s No. 3 position, House whip, which gives him ready access to members and a network of assistants to help round up votes.

Photo: Gage Skidmore via Flickr

Boehner Says He Wasn’t Mocking GOP Colleagues On Immigration

By Lisa Mascaro and Michael A. Memoli, Tribune Washington Bureau

WASHINGTON — Speaker John A. Boehner on Tuesday downplayed his recent criticism of reluctant GOP lawmakers as nothing but ribbing among friends, though he privately told House Republicans that he would still like to consider immigration reform this year.

Boehner came under fire from conservative Republicans for a speech he made in Cincinnati last week when he mocked colleagues with an exaggerated whining tone for complaining that the politics of immigration overhaul were “too hard.”

“You only tease the ones you love,” Boehner told reporters after the closed meeting at Republican Party headquarters Tuesday.

Lawmakers tended to take the speaker’s criticism in stride, but “some members were offended,” said Rep. John Fleming, R-La.

Boehner appeared to win over lawmakers, though, when he insisted “there’s no secret conspiracy to have comprehensive immigration reform pass,” Fleming said.

But the speaker did not rule out taking up immigration bills this year.

“We’re going to continue to work with our members and to have discussions and to see if there’s a way forward,” Boehner said.

Attention on the House has intensified as the window for passing legislation narrows with the coming November election. A year after the Senate passed the most comprehensive immigration overhaul in a generation, the House has yet to act.

Republicans have argued that they cannot consider immigration reform because they do not trust that President Barack Obama will enforce whatever laws they may pass — arguments Boehner reiterated Tuesday.

But the GOP’s reluctance has prompted the White House to consider using executive powers to make changes in immigration policy if Congress fails to act.

Advocates for immigration reform have continued to pressure the House — and the administration — to halt deportations. Protests outside the White House led to several arrests this week. More than 250 evangelical leaders rallied Tuesday morning outside the Capitol.

“We’re trying to line up the votes,” said Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart of Florida, a leading GOP advocate of immigration overhaul. “Every day we’re getting more and more.”

AFP Photo/Jim Watson

Rep. Michael Grimm Of New York To Face Charges In Campaign Probe

By Lisa Mascaro and Michael A. Memoli, Tribune Washington Bureau

WASHINGTON — A Republican congressman is expected to face charges in a long-running federal investigation into campaign irregularities, but will continue serving in office, his lawyer said Friday.

Rep. Michael R. Grimm, a combat Marine and former FBI agent who represents Staten Island and other parts of New York, has been under investigation for more than two years in what his attorney called a “politically motivated vendetta.”

“The U.S. Attorney’s office has disclosed its intent to file criminal charges against Congressman Grimm,” attorney William J. McGinley said in a statement. “We are disappointed by the government’s decision, but hardly surprised…. Congressman Grimm asserts his innocence of any wrongdoing. When the dust settles, he will be vindicated.”

The U.S. attorney’s office in New York declined to comment.

Much of the congressman’s second term has been dogged by the investigation, which raised questions about his tough-on-crime image. His web site says that at the FBI, Grimm worked “tackling corruption in politics & beyond.”

Earlier this year, Grimm threatened to throw a New York TV reporter off a Capitol balcony after the journalist asked the congressman about the investigation. Grimm later apologized.

Democrats are certain to intensify their efforts to reclaim his seat this fall. President Barack Obama carried the district in 2012.

Investigations of Grimm surfaced amid reports, including in The New York Times, that fundraising for his first campaign came in part from his relation to an Israeli citizen who is an aide to an Orthodox rabbi, and may have violated limits on campaign giving — and prohibitions on giving by foreigners.

AFP Photo/Alex Wong

Speaker Boehner Invites Pope Francis To Address Congress

By Lisa Mascaro and Michael A. Memoli, Tribune Washington Bureau

WASHINGTON — Speaker John A. Boehner has invited Pope Francis to deliver a joint address to Congress, in what would be the first such session by the head of the Catholic Church.

The invitation was made on the first anniversary of popular pope’s election, and meshes with efforts by Republicans to portray the party as more engaged on the issues of poverty and inequality that have been priorities for Pope Francis.

“Pope Francis has inspired millions of Americans with his pastoral manners and servant leadership,” wrote Boehner, a Roman Catholic, in the invitation letter, noting “his tireless call for the protection of the most vulnerable among us.”

Boehner noted that “these principles are among the fundamentals of the American idea. And though our nation sometimes fails to live up to these principles, at our best we give them new life as we seek the common good.”

The pope has not yet accepted the invitation, but the visit would not likely be until next year. This month President Barack Obama is traveling to Italy and will meet with the pope at the Vatican.

Congress occasionally convenes for joint meetings with the president and heads of state in the House chamber, but officials said a pope has never delivered such an address. Pope Benedict visited Washington in 2008.

Catholics remain an important voting bloc for both parties, coveted as a bellwether of the national mood.

In Congress, an estimated 160 lawmakers are Catholic, including Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) the minority leader, while more than half identify with a Protestant denomination, according to the Pew Research Religion and Public Life Project.

Photo: Catholic Church (England and Wales) via Flickr