Posts Tagged Mitch McConnell
For the first time during President Obama’s presidency, Republicans took complete control of Congress for the first time in eight years Tuesday, then ran straight into a White House veto threat against their top-priority legislation to build the Keystone XL oil pipeline.
Republicans condemned the unexpected announcement, which came at the same time they were savoring the fruits of last fall’s elections and speaking brightly about possible bipartisan compromises in the two years ahead.
“I’m really optimistic about what we can accomplish,” said Kentucky Sen. Mitch McConnell, moments after he was recognized as leader of the new Republican majority on one side of the Capitol.
At the other end of the majestic building, Rep. John Boehner of Ohio easily won a third term as House speaker despite attempts by tea party-backed dissidents to topple him. He said the 114th Congress would begin by passing legislation to “develop more North American energy” among top priorities, adding “We invite the president to support and sign these bipartisan initiatives into law.”
It was an offer the White House could and did refuse in advance. “If this bill passes Congress, the president wouldn’t sign it,” presidential press secretary Josh Earnest said before Boehner spoke. He said the measure would undermine a review process underway by the administration.
The events spilled out rapidly on a day that offered a glimpse of the political forces at work in an era of divided government, the intraparty struggle among House Republicans, the coordination that GOP leaders in both houses showed in pursuing a conservative agenda and the blocking power of a Democratic president.
There was well choreographed pageantry as well on a day Republicans installed a 54-46 majority in the Senate and took 246 of the 435 seats in the House, the most in more than 60 years.
Vice President Joe Biden presided over swearing-in ceremonies in the Senate, leading new senators and re-elected veterans alike in an age-old oath to “support and defend the Constitution of the United States.” He reserved his warmest greeting for former Vice President and Sen. Walter F. Mondale, 87, who accompanied Minnesota Sen. Al Franken down the chamber’s carpeted center aisle to an oath-taking.
The House played host to a younger crowd as lawmakers were sworn in for two-year terms, children in their best clothes, babies in their parents’ arms. “Mommy, mommy,” yelled out one girl, no longer content to sit in the lap of her congressman-father.
One powerful player was absent but eager to show he would be back soon. Democratic Sen. Harry Reid of Nevada, now the minority leader, issued a statement saying his doctors ordered him to stay away from his office so injuries suffered last week when a piece of exercise equipment broke “can continue to heal.” The statement disclosed for the first time that the 75-year-old lawmaker had suffered a concussion as well as broken facial bones and ribs.
Republicans were eager to turn to an agenda tailored to suit conservatives. They have signaled plans to write a budget that eliminates federal deficits in 10 years or less and to pass an overhaul of the tax code as well as try and reduce federal regulations they say are stifling job creation.
By day’s end, they also won approval to make sure that smaller businesses that hire veterans don’t trigger a requirement in the health care law requiring coverage for employees. The vote was 412-0.
Hoping to smooth their path for future measures, House Republicans passed a rules change permitting congressional scorekeepers to assume that tax cuts increase revenue to the government rather than reduce it. That would make it easier to show a balanced budget with fewer painful spending cuts. The concept, known as “dynamic scoring,” has been an article of faith among conservatives since the Reagan era three decades ago.
Democratic complaints about the change vied with the Republican reaction to the Keystone veto threat.
Moments after highlighting the possibility for compromise, Boehner issued a statement saying Obama had sided with the “fringe extremists” in his own party in opposing the proposed pipeline to carry Canadian oil into the United States.
Said McConnell: “The president threatening to veto the first bipartisan infrastructure bill of the new Congress must come as a shock to the American people who spoke loudly in November in favor of bipartisan accomplishments.”
Earlier, the 72-year-old Kentuckian permitted himself a slight smile when he was addressed inside the Senate for the first time as “majority leader, ” a post he has long sought.
In remarks after he was sworn in as speaker, Boehner said that despite economic improvements, “far too many Americans remain out of work, and too many are working harder only to lose ground to stagnant wages and rising costs.”
Acknowledging the difficulties inherent in divided government, he said, “Let’s stand tall and prove the skeptics wrong. Let’s make this a time of harvest.”
Boehner first had to survive a challenge to his leadership by a group of critics so disorganized they failed to coalesce around a single alternative. The 25 votes cast against him by fellow Republicans was an unusually high number, but they were spread among nine potential replacements. Rep. Louie Gohmert of Texas, the loudest of Boehner’s critics, drew only three votes, one of them his own.
Hours later, officials said Boehner had removed two dissidents, Florida Reps. Daniel Webster and Rich Nugent, from coveted slots on the Rules Committee. It was unclear if the change was permanent, since no replacements were named.
Intentionally ignoring Republican pleas to work with them, President Barack Obama unveiled expansive executive actions on immigration Thursday night to spare nearly 5 million people in the U.S. illegally from deportation and refocus enforcement efforts on “felons, not families.”
The moves, affecting mostly parents and young people, marked the most sweeping changes to the nation’s fractured immigration laws in nearly three decades and set off a fierce fight with Republicans over the limits of presidential powers.
In a televised address to the nation, Obama defended the legality of his actions and challenged GOP lawmakers to focus their energy not on blocking his measures but on approving long-stalled legislation to take their place.
“To those members of Congress who question my authority to make our immigration system work better, or question the wisdom of me acting where Congress has failed, I have one answer: Pass a bill,” Obama said, flexing his presidential powers just two weeks after his political standing was challenged in the midterm elections.
As Obama spoke from the White House, immigration supporters with American flags draped over their shoulders marched on Pennsylvania Avenue outside carrying signs that read, “Gracias, Presidente Obama.”
The address marked the first step in the White House effort to promote the executive actions to the public. On Friday, Obama will speak at a campaign-style rally in Las Vegas.
Despite Obama’s challenge to Republicans to pass a broader immigration bill, his actions and the angry GOP response could largely stamp out those prospects for the remainder of his presidency, ensuring that the contentious debate will carry on into the 2016 elections.
Republicans, emboldened by their sweeping victories in the midterms, are weighing responses to the president’s actions that include lawsuits, a government shutdown and in rare instances, even impeachment.
“The president will come to regret the chapter history writes if he does move forward,” Sen. Mitch McConnell, the Kentucky Republican who is soon to become the Senate majority leader, said before Obama’s address.
House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, who has refused to have his members vote on broad immigration legislation passed by the Senate last year, said Obama’s decision to go it alone “cemented his legacy of lawlessness and squandered what little credibility he had left.”
While Obama’s measures are sweeping in scope, they still leave more than half of the 11 million people living in the U.S. illegally in limbo. The president announced new deportation priorities that would compel law enforcement to focus its efforts on tracking down serious criminals and people who have recently crossed the border, while specifically placing a low priority on those who have been in the United States for more than 10 years.
The president spent months trying to gain a House vote on the Senate bill, frustrating immigration advocates and some Democrats who wanted him to instead take action on his own. While Obama had long insisted that his powers to halt deportations were limited, the White House began seriously exploring options for unilateral action.
Still, that process has been beset by delays, especially Obama’s decision to hold off on announcing the executive orders until after the midterms. Some Democrats had feared that thrusting the immigration debate to the forefront of the campaign would hurt their chances of keeping control of the Senate, though the White House’s delay ultimately did little to stem their defeats.
Obama insisted that his actions did not amount to amnesty.
“Amnesty is the immigration system we have today, millions of people who live here without paying their taxes or playing by the rules, while politicians use the issue to scare people and whip up votes at election time,” he said.
The main beneficiaries of the president’s actions are immigrants who have been in the U.S. illegally for more than five years but whose children are citizens or lawful permanent residents. After passing background checks and paying fees, those individuals will soon be able to seek relief from deportation and get work permits. The administration expects about 4.1 million people to qualify.
Obama is also broadening his 2012 directive that deferred deportation for some young immigrants who entered the country illegally. Obama will expand eligibility to people who arrived in the U.S. as minors before 2010, instead of the current cutoff of 2007, and will lift the requirement that applicants be under 31. The expansion is expected to affect about 300,000 people.
Applications for the new deportation deferrals will begin in the spring. Those who qualify would be granted deferrals for three years at a time.
Immigration-rights activists gathered at watch parties around the country to listen to the president announce actions they have sought for years.
In New York City, however, a couple of protesters held “no amnesty” signs outside a New York union office where advocates of the president’s plan were gathering to watch him and celebrate.
“We have a lot of unemployed Americans right now, and I don’t understand why unemployed Americans can’t be hired to do the jobs these illegals are doing,” said John Wilson, who works in contract management.
The White House insists Obama has the legal authority to halt deportations for parents and for people who came to the U.S. as children, primarily on humanitarian grounds. Officials also cited precedents set by previous immigration executive actions by Democratic and Republican presidents dating back to Dwight Eisenhower.
A senior administration official said the decision to protect parents of citizens or lawful permanent residents is in line with an existing law that allows adult citizens to sponsor their parents for immigration. Obama’s plan goes a step further because the sponsoring citizen doesn’t have to be an adult.
GOP lawmakers disagree with Obama’s claims of legal authority, calling his actions an unconstitutional power grab.
The long-stalled legislation to build the Keystone XL pipeline got new life on Wednesday after Senate Democrats suddenly abandoned efforts to block the measure in hopes of helping endangered Sen. Mary Landrieu keep her seat in energy-rich Louisiana.
Republicans responded swiftly to Landrieu’s maneuvering, scheduling a vote in the House on Thursday on an identical bill sponsored by Rep. Bill Cassidy, Landrieu’s Republican rival in a Dec. 6 runoff.
While the White House stopped short of directly threatening a veto, spokesman Josh Earnest said President Barack Obama takes a “dim view” of legislative efforts to force action on the project. Earnest reiterated Obama’s preference for evaluating the pipeline through a long-stalled State Department review.
Republicans and several moderate Democrats insist that construction of the Canada-to-Texas pipeline would create tens of thousands of jobs. Environmentalists maintain that the project would have a negative impact and contribute to climate change.
“I believe that we should take the new majority leader at his word and stop blocking legislation that is broadly supported by the American public and has been for quite some time,” Landrieu said in a speech on the Senate floor. “I want to say yes to majority leader, new majority leader Mitch McConnell. The time to start is now.”
Landrieu cast herself as an independent willing to challenge Democrats and Republicans, hoping to shake up her Senate race.
“I’ve stood against my leadership,” she told reporters, and added, “And I’ve stood up to the Republicans.”
The back-and-forth came against the backdrop of a new political landscape and fresh calls for an end to Washington gridlock. Republicans rolled in midterm elections, seizing majority control of the Senate with a net gain of eight seats. A GOP victory in Louisiana would make it nine and Cassidy is heavily favored.
Come January, Republicans could have a 54-46 majority in the Senate if Cassidy wins, controlling the chamber and legislation for the first time in eight years.
McConnell said the election of a Republican Senate majority has already changed the dynamic.
“I hope this post-election conversion on Keystone signals Democrat cooperation on a whole host of other energy bills they have blocked, and whose passage would help to make America more energy-independent,” he said in a statement.
Echoing Landrieu’s plea for a vote were moderate Democrats from Republican states, who argued that the project that would carry oil from Canada south to the Gulf Coast. The southern leg of the pipeline between Oklahoma and Texas is already operational.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., has moved in the past to prevent the Keystone measure from passing, giving credence to Republican claims that Landrieu is ineffective as chairman of the Energy and Natural Resources Committee.
The Republican sponsor of the bill, Sen. John Hoeven of North Dakota, said the measure has the support of all 45 Republicans and 11 Democrats. It will be incumbent upon Landrieu to persuade four more Democrats to back the measure to reach the 60-vote threshold.
One senior Senate Democratic aide said Reid would not attempt to defeat Landrieu’s effort.
Asked if Obama would sign it, Landrieu told reporters: “I do not know.”
Energy has been a central issue in the Senate race, and Keystone a frequent flashpoint with both Landrieu and Cassidy supporting the project. Cassidy has said Landrieu has been unable to deliver because of her party’s leadership.
Landrieu has a strong alliance with the oil and gas industry and has pushed for an expansion of drilling in the U.S.
If elected, Cassidy would get a seat on the Energy panel. As a new senator, he would be low in the pecking order of panel members, and in the final two years of Obama’s presidency, Cassidy and Louisiana’s all-GOP congressional delegation would likely have little sway with the Democratic administration.
As Louisiana’s last Democratic statewide elected official, Landrieu has a difficult path to victory in a state that overwhelmingly backed Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney in 2012. Fifty-eight percent of voters supported someone other than Landrieu in the primary last week.
Republican leaders are uniting behind Cassidy, a three-term congressman, while the national Democratic Party has decided against providing advertising support for Landrieu in the runoff.
Asked if she was a lost cause, Landrieu told reporters, “No, I don’t believe that I am.”
In a statement, Cassidy said it “is easy to wonder if the Senate is only considering this because of politics, even so, I hope the Senate and the president do the right thing and pass this legislation creating thousands of jobs.”
Riding a wave of voter frustration with Washington incumbents and the unpopular policies of the Obama administration, Republicans seized at least seven seats from Senate Democrats to claim total congressional control for the first time since 2006.
“The American people have put their trust in the Republican Party,” Republican National Committee chairman Reince Priebus said shortly after the Democratic implosion.
Mitch McConnell, the Senate’s top Republican, brushed aside the toughest challenge to his Kentucky seat in 30 years and was slated to replace Harry Reid as Senate majority leader.
“This experiment in big government has lasted long enough. It’s time to go in a new direction,” McConnell boomed to supporters in his victory speech.
But he sounded a conciliatory note as well, adding that while he and the president rarely see eye to eye, “we do have an obligation to work together on issues where we can agree.”
Reid, stung by losing his powerful leadership role, congratulated McConnell but also called for cooperation.
“The message from voters is clear: they want us to work together,” Reid said.
Republicans have held the 435-seat House of Representatives since 2010, and they kept it safely in hand Tuesday.
In a bipartisan achievement, for the first time ever more than 100 women were projected to win House seats.
But compounding Democratic woes, projections showed the GOP could actually gain an impressive 14 to 18 House seats, giving Republicans their largest majority since 1946.
Republicans also cleaned up in key governors’ races, earning re-election in Florida, Wisconsin and Kansas and stunning Democrats by winning governorships in blue Maryland and Massachusetts.
But of the 36 governors’ races, probably the most painful for Obama was Illinois, where Republican Bruce Rauner ousted Democrat Pat Quinn in the president’s home state.
Democrats worked feverishly to draw voters to the polls in a last-gasp effort, but it was not enough to halt the Republican juggernaut.
With no legislative base in Congress, Obama will struggle to pass any reforms in the final stretch of his mandate, and his opponents will be able to thwart his appointments to judicial and official posts.
The party of an incumbent president historically fares badly in elections in his second term, and every president since Ronald Reagan has left office with the opposition controlling Congress.
The Republicans, capitalizing on the nation’s sour mood despite an economic recovery, essentially based their campaigns on attacks against Obama and policies like his troubled health care reform.
“It was a powerful repudiation of the Obama agenda,” conservative Senator Ted Cruz told CNN.
But he repeated what many in his party have urged, that the responsibility now falls on Republicans to govern, particularly in the run-up to the 2016 presidential election.
“We are humbled by the responsibility the American people have placed with us, but this is not a time for celebration,” House Speaker John Boehner said, adding he hoped Obama would not launch a ‘counterattack’ on the Republican majority.
“It’s time for government to start getting results and implementing solutions to the challenges facing our country, starting with our still-struggling economy,” Boehner added.
While Republicans are likely to cooperate on issues like tax reform, the party will seek to breathe life into their stalled jobs bills, to gain approval of the delayed Keystone XL pipeline, roll back some carbon emission regulations and tweak Obamacare.
Election night was ugly from the get-go for Obama’s party.
Democrats including Senator Mark Pryor of Arkansas, Kay Hagan of North Carolina and Mark Udall of Colorado fell like dominoes as Republicans capitalized on a particularly strong set of candidates, including Arkansas’ Tom Cotton and Colorado’s Cory Gardner, who successfully convinced voters they would be better off with leaders not loyal to an unpopular president.
Conservative Joni Ernst won her battle in Iowa, becoming the state’s first female senator and assuring Republicans hold at least 52 seats.
Democratic Senator Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire held her seat, but that was the only good news for Democrats, as Republicans fended off challenges in GOP strongholds Georgia, Kansas and Kentucky.
The onslaught could well deepen for Democrats, with an unexpected cliffhanger remaining in Virginia, Alaska up in the air and Louisiana Democratic Senator Mary Landrieu forced into an unfavorable December 6 runoff.
The Republican performance appeared to surpass most expectations.
“They’ve done this about as well as they could conceivably have done it,” University of Michigan assistant professor Michael Heaney said.
A chastened Obama has invited the four congressional leaders to the White House on Friday.
Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who has been dogged by Republican questions about her health and age as she mulls a run at the presidency in 2016, told ABC in an interview on Friday that her health is “very good.”
Clinton added that she had “no lingering effects” from a late-2012 health scare in which she suffered a blood clot as the result of a fall. Karl Rove, the well-known Republican strategist, questioned whether Clinton was healthy enough to run for president, something the former first lady is admittedly considering.
If she runs, Clinton said she would release her medical records.
“I would do what other candidates have done, absolutely,” she told ABC’s Diane Sawyer in a clip that aired Friday. In the interview, Clinton described the fall and the recovery at length.
“It was, I think, a serious concussion,” Clinton said. “Because of the force of the fall, I had double vision for a short period of time and I had some dizziness.”
She said she did not have headaches or any trouble talking.
Because of Clinton’s history of blood clots – she suffered a large blood clot behind her right knee and was rushed to Bethesda Naval Hospital outside Washington in 1998 – the former senator said she will probably be on blood thinners for the rest of her life.
Clinton also responded to questions about Bowe Bergdahl, the American soldier who was held by the Taliban for five years. The Obama administration traded five detainees from the prison in Guantanamo Bay for the soldier. Some have questioned the circumstances around Bergdahl’s capture, and the prisoner trade has raised a number of questions among lawmakers and pundits.
Clinton, however, backed the trade in the interview.
“If you look at what the factors were going into the decision, of course there are competing interests and values,” she said. “And one of our values is we bring everybody home off the battlefield the best we can. It doesn’t matter how they ended up in a prisoner of war situation.”
She added, “It doesn’t matter. We bring our people home.”
In the three-minute clip, Clinton also took on multiple Republican critics of her age and health.
Clinton has no ill words for Rove, President George W. Bush’s close aide and senior adviser.
“I know he was called Bush’s brain in one of the books written about him and I wish him well,” Clinton said with a laugh.
Clinton joked about a comment made by Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, who said the Democratic field in 2016 looks like “a rerun of the ‘Golden Girls,'” a 1980s sitcom about older women who were divorced or widowed.
“That was a very popular, long-running TV series,” she said.
The Obama administration announced Friday that it is extending the comment period on the State Department’s Keystone XL pipeline report, a move that could delay a final decision on the project indefinitely.
The State Department’s report found that the pipeline would not have a significant environmental impact. It was due to be finalized after a 90-day comment period ended in early May.
The debate over TransCanada’s $5.3 billion proposed pipeline from northern Alberta to the Gulf Coast has long been a sore point between the Obama administration, environmentalists and lawmakers. The pipeline would carry tar sands oil across six U.S. states.
The “core reason” for the halt has to do with the case before Nebraska’s Supreme Court that could, whenever it is resolved, confirm or change the pipeline route. If the project route changes, then so might the agencies’ opinions on the pipeline, according to a senior State Department official.
Environmentalists decry the project because they say the process of extracting and refining tar sands contributes more heavily to climate change than conventional oil production.
“This is a huge victory for climate champions and communities from Alberta down to Nebraska and the Gulf,” said Rachel Wolf, a spokesperson for All Risk, No Reward Coalition, a group opposing the pipeline. “Every day without Keystone XL is a day that we keep high-carbon tar sands in the ground.”
The pipeline’s supporters, such as Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, say research since 2008, when the project was first proposed, has shown the pipeline wouldn’t significantly increase greenhouse gas emissions.
“It is crystal clear that the Obama administration is simply not serious about American energy and American jobs,” McConnell said in a statement Friday.
McConnell added that he is disappointed the president hasn’t done more on the matter by way of executive action.
“I guess he wasn’t serious about having a pen and a phone, either,” McConnell said in the statement.
Pipeline supporter Rep. Lee Terry, R-Nebraska, also blasted the delay.
“Today, (President Obama) punted a tough decision in the name of political expediency, It’s shameful that as we begin spring construction season, that hundreds of my constituents will be denied an opportunity to go to work on a project that will help secure America’s energy future solely because the President wants to placate his political base in an election year.”
Obama, who in his State of the Union speech underscored climate change as a priority of his administration, has said the pipeline must be basically carbon-neutral, meaning it must have little to no effect on climate change.
A Pew Research Center poll conducted in late February through mid-March found that 61% of Americans back the project, compared to 27% who oppose it.
Republicans such as McConnell argue the pipeline is critical to help shore up the economy. Labor unions are hoping the pipeline project can boost jobs.
And four politically-embattled Democrats – Mary Landrieu in Louisiana, Mark Begich in Alaska, Mark Pryor in Arkansas and Kay Hagan of North Carolina, also want the pipeline.
“This decision is irresponsible, unnecessary and unacceptable,” said Landrieu, chairwoman of the Senate Energy Committee in a press statement Friday. “I plan to use my power as chair of the Senate Energy Committee to take decisive action to get this pipeline approved.”
Sen. Barbara Boxer, who chairs of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, isn’t entirely happy (she wants a separate study on health impact), but overall she applauded the delay.
“Given the unprecedented number of comments from the public on the Keystone XL pipeline proposal, and the legal uncertainties due to lawsuits in Nebraska, the State Department was entirely correct to delay a decision on the pipeline,” she wrote.