TIME Immigration

Republicans Brace for an Immigration Fight With Obama

John Boehner Obama Immigration
Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-OH) holds a news conference with the newly-elected members of the House GOP leadership at the U.S. Capitol in Washington on Nov. 13, 2014. Chip Somodevilla—Getty Images

Mocks "Emperor Obama" on immigration

After President Barack Obama announces executive actions expected to shield five million undocumented immigrants from deportation Thursday, Republicans will scream that he doesn’t have the authority to do so and use Obama’s own words to make their case. Indeed, they already have.

“If ‘Emperor Obama’ ignores the American people and announces an amnesty plan that he himself has said over and over again exceeds his Constitutional authority, he will cement his legacy of lawlessness and ruin the chances for Congressional action on this issue—and many others,” Michael Steel, a spokesman for House Speaker John Boehner, said in a statement Wednesday, referring to when Obama said last year that he has “obligations” to enforce current immigration laws as he is “not the emperor of the United States.”

But besides press releases and floor speeches, what can Republicans do? So far, Republican lawmakers have indicated they could move to defund certain programs and sue the President, a move many immigration legal experts say would likely fail in court. It appears neither option is very good.

“It’s hard to defund inaction,” Ohio Republican Rep. Steve Stivers said of Obama’s expected move to temporarily defer deportations. “So we’re struggling to figure out what our real options are.”

Kentucky Republican Rep. Hal Rogers, who chairs the House Appropriations Committee, has tried to rally conservatives to pass a package that would fund the government through next September and then—after the President’s executive actions are better understood—pass another bill that would rescind funding for programs designed to carry out the order. Congress has a Dec. 11 deadline to avert a government shutdown, something Republican leaders want to avoid after last year’s politically damaging shutdown.

“I want the new Congress to be able to start anew, fresh, to be able to set agenda,” said Florida Republican Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, an immigration reform supporter who approves of the year-long measure. “What is not an acceptable, what is not a path forward what is not a solution is to shut down the government.”

Oklahoma Republican Rep. Tom Cole, a Boehner ally, said that while such a so-called “omnibus” government funding measure isn’t dead, the President is “certainly doing his best to kill it.”

“He would rather have an end-of-the-year fight than an an end-of-the-year deal and that’s a sad portent of what the next two years might be like,” Cole added. “I hope it’s not.”

Some conservatives have advocated for a short-term alternative that would push the spending battle into early next year when Republicans control both chambers of Congress. AlabamaRepublican Sen. Jeff Sessions, the incoming Budget Committee chairman, has pushed that strategy along with other conservatives and outside groups.

Roy Beck, president of the immigration-reduction group Numbers USA, told TIME that “any vote” to fund the Department of Homeland Security for “more than two or three months would be a vote in favor of the Obama amnesty.” Dan Holler, a spokesman for the conservative group Heritage Action, said in a statement Wednesday that Rogers’ plan doesn’t provide enough leverage for Republicans, as the President wouldn’t sign a rescinded bill to help Republicans defund his executive action.

Some Republicans and conservative commentators, like Erick Erickson of the website RedState, have noted that there was little longterm political cost to last year’s government shutdown. Republican poll numbers initially cratered, but the botched rollout of the health care reform law quickly shifted attention and Republicans recaptured the Senate this month for the first time since 2006.

“Turns out the public was a lot smarter than a lot in the political class and media class gave them credit for,” the Arizona Republican Rep. David Schweikert told Bloomberg on Tuesday. “They were able to discern that it was an honorable fight over many of the things that were rolling out in the new health care law.”

“It would be the President who would shut down the government if we passed legislation that fully funds the government with the exception of his illegal conduct,” Alabama Republican Rep. Mo Brooks said.

Besides possibly attempting to defund targeted agencies, Republicans may also sue the President over the executive actions. But a taxpayer-funded lawsuit could lose steam as it the cost rises and weeks go by—witness the dormancy of a House-pushed lawsuit over Obama’s administrative tweaks to the health law.

“There’s obviously legal challenges we can bring, but those take time and our base gets really frustrated because they think, ‘well all you can do is sue the guy,’” Stivers said. “Which may be true—we don’t yet, we’re really working hard to try and find options.”

TIME Congress

Acting Secret Service Director ‘Confident’ He Can Restore Faith in Agency

Joseph Clancy
Acting Secret Service Director Joseph Clancy testifies on Capitol Hill Susan Walsh—AP

Joseph Clancy addressed the House Judiciary Committee on Wednesday, noting the failures that have led to public mistrust in the agency

Acting Director of the Secret Service Joseph Clancy told lawmakers on Wednesday he’s “confident” he can restore the American public’s faith in the agency, in the wake of high-profile security breaches that put the President and First Family in danger.

“We are confident we can fulfill our mission with honor, and restore the secret service’s rightful place as the most respected protection service in the world,” Clancy said Wednesday in front of the House Judiciary Committee.

It has been a little over a month since Clancy took the reigns at the Secret Service, after previous director Julia Pierson stepped down after the public found out that an army veteran named Omar Gonzales had been able to reach the East Room of the White House after jumping a fence and running inside.

Clancy acknowledged the failures of the agency in recent months, saying he is working to adjust training and morale within an agency he notes is stretched thin. He also addressed the Sept. 19 fence jumping, calling it “devastating.”

“What hits me hardest is the range of shortcomings that ultimately allowed Omar Gonzalez to enter the White House practically unencumbered,” he said.

The Washington Post reports Rep. Jason Chaffetz, who will serve as the next chairman of the House Oversight committee, grilled Clancy on whether or not anyone had been punished for misleading the public on when the fence jumper was detained in early reports.

“We’ve cited at least two, I believe three, incidents when the public was misinformed,” Chaffetz reportedly said. “The Secret Service misled us on purpose.”

TIME Congress

Senate Blocks NSA Phone-Records Measure

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Senate has blocked a bill to end bulk collection of American phone records by the National Security Agency. The measure was President Barack Obama’s signature proposal to rein in domestic surveillance.

Tuesday’s vote was largely along party lines, with most Democrats supporting the bill and most Republicans voting to kill it. The Republican-controlled House had previously passed a version of the bill.

The legislation would have allowed the NSA in terrorism investigations to query the records held by the telephone companies.

The revelation that the spying agency had been collecting and storing domestic phone records since shortly after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, was among the most significant by Edward Snowden, a former agency network administrator who turned over secret NSA documents to journalists.

TIME Congress

Senate Blocks Keystone Legislation

Landrieu Handed Loss by Fellow Democrats

Senate Democrats blocked a bill to authorize the 1,179-mile TransCanada Keystone XL pipeline Tuesday evening, delaying a confrontation between the White House and Republicans over the project and potentially damaging Democratic Louisiana Senator Mary Landrieu’s hopes for re-election in a tight runoff vote next month.

All 45 Republican Senators and 14 Democrats voted for the bill, falling one short of the 60 votes needed to override a Democratic filibuster of the measure.

The vote capped a day of political stunts and speeches on the floor of the Senate. Hours earlier, Chairman of the Environment and Public Works Committee, California Democrat Sen. Barbara Boxer, stood in front of a huge poster marked “Misery Follows Tar Sands” and another with people wearing protective face masks. “It’s called Keystone XL,” Boxer said, “Not extra large, but extra lethal… Why do we want to bring barrels of filthy, dangerous, dirty pollution into America?”

On the other side of the Capitol, House Speaker John Boehner said in a press conference Tuesday morning that vetoing a bill for the popular pipeline would be the “equivalent of calling the American people ‘stupid.’”

Landrieu worked hard to find the 15 Democrats needed for passage, garnering support from Colorado Sen. Michael Bennet and Delaware Sen. Tom Carper. “We’ve been at this for six years,” said Carper who believes the pipeline has “impeded” efforts to pass clean energy bills. “We need to vote on it and move on.”

Even some environmentalists agree with Carper’s assessment that the Keystone push has taken the spotlight from other issues. Michael Shellenberger, the President of the progressive Breakthrough Institute, says that the Keystone debate is symbolic of a broader problem for the environmental movement in which partisans with narrow interests fail to support potentially bipartisan energy plans with coal alternatives like nuclear and natural gas. “I think the greatest irony of it—and that no one really talks about—is that right in the middle of the thing we’re having a huge fracking boom,” he says.

“[Environmentalists] hitched their carts to the Democrats and it doesn’t really give any incentive to Republicans to care or do much of anything on the environment,” adds Shellenberger. “This is the most politically weakened environmental movement there’s probably ever been since the movement was created in 1970.”

As for Landrieu, her chances to defeat Rep. Bill Cassidy in their Dec. 6 runoff–never very good–just got smaller. Even the publicity she got pushing the bill won’t do her much good, according to Louisiana political experts. “I don’t think the pipeline bill push will do much to change the dynamics of this election,” Pearson Cross, a political science professor at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette said before the vote. “It is probably too little too late.”

After the bill’s defeat was announced on the floor, a singing man dressed in Native American garb and a handful of student protesters were escorted from the viewing section of the Senate chamber and handcuffed.

TIME Congress

Senate Democrats Reject Bill To Build Oil Pipeline

House Votes On Full Passage Of Keystone Pipeline
Members walk down the steps of the House side of the US Capitol after voting on the Kyestone XL Pipeline, Nov. 14, 2014. Mark Wilson—Getty Images

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Democrat-controlled Senate has defeated a bill to approve the Keystone XL oil pipeline.

The Senate’s 59-41 vote Tuesday night was a nail-biter to the end.

The bill needed 60 votes to reach the White House. The House passed it overwhelmingly last week.

President Barack Obama did not support the bill, but the White House has been mum on whether or not he will veto it.

Democrat Sen. Mary Landrieu pushed for the vote in an effort to save her seat in a Dec. 6 runoff election in Louisiana. She faces an uphill battle against Republican Rep. Bill Cassidy, who authored the House bill.

All Republicans said publicly they supported the Senate bill, as did several moderate Democrats.

TIME

Dem Frenemies: Pelosi, Hoyer Again on Opposite Sides of a Leadership Debate

Nancy Pelosi, Steny Hoyer
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi of Calif., followed by House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer of Md., arrives for a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, Nov. 18, 2014, to introduce the Democratic leadership team for the 114th Congress. ) Susan Walsh—AP

Nancy Pelosi and Steny Hoyer are backing rival candidates to be top Democrat on the powerful Energy and Commerce committee

Democrats in the U.S. House of Representatives re-elected Nancy Pelosi of California as Minority Leader and Steny Hoyer of Maryland as Minority Whip on Tuesday with little drama, according to House members who took part in the vote. But the apparent comity hides the re-emergence of a long-simmering competition between the top two Democrats over lower level spots in their Congressional roster.

With leadership votes expected for key committees as soon as Wednesday, the race to replace retiring powerhouse Rep. Henry Waxman as top Democrat on the Energy and Commerce committee has turned into a test of influence between Pelosi and Hoyer.

For months, California Rep. Anna Eshoo and New Jersey Rep. Frank Pallone have been competing for votes to serve as the next ranking member of the powerful committee, which has authority over a large part of the U.S. economy and traditionally plays an outsized role in investigations and oversight.

Pelosi backs her longtime friend and ally, Eshoo, sending letters to colleagues urging them to support her fellow Californian since shortly after Eshoo’s announcement. Eshoo’s priorities, Pelosi says, align with the “future of America’s vibrant and competitive environment.”

Hoyer has been stumping for Pallone, though not nearly as openly as Pelosi. Aside from touting Pallone’s work on the committee, Hoyer embraces the system of seniority that traditionally, but not inevitably, gives preference to longer-serving members of Congress. Pallone is currently the number three Democrat on Energy and Commerce, while Eshoo is the fifth-most senior member on the panel.

“A major component [of the Eshoo-Pallone fight] is the proxy war between Nancy Pelosi and Steny Hoyer,” says a House Democratic aide.

Pelosi and Hoyer have a long-running rivalry. Both interned for Sen. Daniel Brewster in the 1960s, and later joined each other in the House or Representatives. In 2001, they duked it out for a seat in the Democratic leadership and though both insisted they had they votes to become the Minority Whip, Pelosi won the job. In 2002, she became the Democratic leader and the first woman to serve as a party leader in Congress. In 2006, after Democrats took control of the House of Representatives and Pelosi was boosted to Speaker of the House, she backed Rep. John Murtha of Pennsylvania for the number two spot, despite Hoyer’s candidacy for the job. Hoyer beat Murtha 149 to 86.

Many thought Hoyer would take on Pelosi when Democrats faced their brutal loss in 2010, but he told Politico that year he never considered challenging her for the seat: “Obviously, [Pelosi] had to make a decision on whether she could be an effective leader. I think she can.”

Hoyer, a centrist, has found common cause with some liberals in the Eshoo-Pallone fight. Members of Congressional Black and Congressional Hispanic Caucuses support the elevation of Pallone because they think seniority should decide who takes on leadership roles in committee. “Those who through years of service have gained significant expertise and knowledge should be given priority to lead our committees and sub-committees,” wrote Rep. Marcia Fudge of Ohio in a recent letter to colleagues.

Some House Democratic aides, however, insist it isn’t a proxy fight; Hoyer supports Pallone because he respects the work he’s done. “This race ultimately comes down to personal relationships,” one senior aide says.

House Democrats are scheduled to vote on the committee position early Wednesday.

-With reporting by Alex Rogers

TIME Congress

Inside Landrieu’s Last Fight: Keystone or Bust

Senator Mary Landrieu (D-LA) holds a news conference with fellow committee member Senator Joe Manchin (D-WV) on the Keystone XL pipeline in Washington on Nov. 12, 2014.
Senator Mary Landrieu, Democrat of Louisiana, holds a news conference with fellow committee member Senator Joe Manchin, Democrat of West Virginia, on the Keystone XL pipeline in Washington on Nov. 12, 2014 Gary Cameron—Reuters

The Search for 60

Before the doors to the Senators’ private elevator closed on embattled Louisiana Democrat Mary Landrieu in the basement of the Capitol building Monday afternoon, a reporter shouted to her from the hallway outside: “Who is the 60th?” She replied with a wink.

With just hours to go before a Tuesday night vote to authorize the TransCanada Keystone XL pipeline, Landrieu claims to have the 60 votes she needs for a filibuster-proof majority to ensure passage, but her supporters say they have just 59 votes. If she gets to 60 and the Senate passes the bill, despite opposition from Senate Democratic leaders and the White House, Landrieu hopes it will increase her diminishing chances at re-election in a run-off vote in Louisiana early next month.

“Landrieu is still pulling out every stop, calling, texting, pleading, begging,” says a Senate Democrat aide. “Leadership—they occasionally check in to make sure [my boss is] not flipping, but they’ve been keeping tabs on it…[My boss] had already told Landrieu ‘no’ about 15 times before he got his first Harry Reid call.”

Landrieu’s hunt for a 60th has become a bigger battle between powerful, well-funded environmentalists and energy interests. Passage of the bill would be the strongest signal to President Barack Obama, after six years of debate, that there is now robust political support in favor of building the pipeline.

The Chamber of Commerce has sent around letters supporting the pipeline, even putting the vote on its annual scorecard that helps determine which candidates the powerful business lobby will support in the future. A number of labor groups, including the Laborers’ International Union of North America, North America’s Building Trades Unions and the International Union of Operating Engineers have written letters urging Senators to vote yes.

American Petroleum Institute President Jack Gerard, who “fully expects” the bill to pass, touted its outreach Monday, telling TIME that Senators have heard from “multiple thousands” of constituents burning up the Hill’s phone lines. “I promise you they’ve heard from thousands of their constituents over the past week or two in the post-election cycle,” Gerard says. “These aren’t industry people, these are voters in their respective states.”

The anti-Keystone side has also increased the pressure. On Thursday, League of Conservation Voters President Gene Karpinski hovered just off the Senate floor, giving a hug to Democrat Sen. Chris Coons of Delaware after their conversation, according to a Senate Democrat aide. Coons, a Landrieu target, will likely vote no on the bill.

“Our hope is that it won’t matter,” says David Goldston, the top lobbyist for the anti-Keystone National Resources Defense Council, of the bill, which faces a possible veto from Obama even if it passes. “It will either confirm Congress’ unwillingness to step in on an ongoing process or it will confirm the President’s unwillingness to allow Congress to step in on an ongoing matter.”

Outside groups have even already claimed some credit in influencing the outcome. Jason Kowalski, the policy director of anti-Keystone 350.org, said that his group decided to turn up the heat on Michigan Democrat Sen. Carl Levin after hearing that his front desk was telling callers the Senator was undecided.

“Within 10 minutes we had an email blast out the door to thousands of supporters across Michigan,” says Kowalski. “In a span of two hours his office received over 100 phone calls from Michigan climate activists. Reporters picked up the scent too, and after that two-hour call barrage the Senator told a reporter he would be voting ‘No.’”

Levin said Monday that he’s been “consistently opposed” to Keystone and would vote no Monday. “It would bypass an environmental impact statement on a new route which is a real possibility,” he added.

Landrieu is the driving force behind the fight, calling on years of Senate friendships in hopes of scraping by in the uphill runoff reelection race Dec. 6. The Keystone push is unlikely to be enough—she’s down five points according to Real Clear Politics. But on Monday, Landrieu fought on, conferring on the Senate floor with North Dakota Republican Sen. John Hoeven, West Virgina Democrat Joe Manchin and Virginia Democrat Mark Warner, among other supporters.

Manchin spoke to his fellow West Virginian Democrat Rockefeller while Landrieu spoke for several minutes with Maryland Democrat Barbara Mikulski, who appeared more enthused with what was inside her desk than the conversation. Both Rockefeller and Mikulski are expected to vote “nay” Tuesday. Landrieu says she has 60 votes, although she has yet to name the final one.

“She has a southern charm that is almost irresistible—almost,” joked New Jersey Democratic Sen. Robert Menendez, who said he would oppose the bill Monday.

The White House hasn’t been as aggressive as Landrieu; Maine Independent Sen. Angus King, who says he is likely to vote no, said Monday that Obama’s lobbyists haven’t reached out. But the bill’s supporters say that White House messaging of a likely veto has sidelined some Democrats.

“That frankly makes it tougher to get Democrats on board,” says Ryan Bernstein, chief of staff for Hoeven, a top pro-Keystone Republican.

“Senator Landrieu has a difficult task because it’s a question of will fellow Democrats get to vote their own conscience or are they trying to protect the president,” says the API’s Gerard. “And I think that’s the real challenge.”

TIME Congress

Nancy Pelosi Backs New Mexico Rep. For DCCC Chairman Role

Rep. Ben Ray Luján, 42, would be first Latino to head the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee

Nancy Pelosi said Monday she wants Rep. Ben Ray Luján to be the next chair of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC). The House Minority Leader called the New Mexico Democrat a “dynamic and forward-thinking leader” who would be ideal for the role of recruiting and supporting candidates going into the 2016 election.

If voted in on Tuesday, Luján will be the first Latino to serve as the head of the DCCC. He currently serves as the first vice-chair of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus.

Appointing a Latino leader to the prominent role could be seen as a boon for Democrats hoping to attract more Hispanic voters to head to the polls in two years. Luján said Monday that Americans can set their expectations high going into the next election cycle.

“I think we’re going to see a lot more Democrats elected in 2016,” he said.

The news of Pelosi’s support for Lujan ahead of Tuesday’s vote the position comes in the wake of mounting pressure from progressives to reject Rep. Jim Himes of Connecticut, who was also in the running for the top spot at the DCCC. The Progressive Change Campaign Committee blasted Himes as a “Wall Street Democrat” who would “hurt Democratic chances in 2016.”

Pelosi also threw her support Monday behind DCCC chairman Rep. Steve Israel, who has been eyed to head up policy and communications, and Reps. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.) and Donna Edwards (D-Md.), both tapped to co-chair the steering and policy committee.

Pelosi is expected to easily assume her role as House Minority Leader following tomorrow’s morning vote.

TIME Congress

Nancy Pelosi Tweets Birthday Zinger to John Boehner

In honor of his 65th

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi wished Republican Speaker John Boehner a happy 65th birthday over Twitter on Monday, in a message that compresses an age-old debate on spending priorities into less than 140 characters.

TIME Congress

Louisiana Senator One Vote Short on Keystone Pipeline Bill

Landrieu Hunts for Filibuster-Proof Majority

Ten days ago, Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) said that a vote to authorize the TransCanada Keystone XL pipeline would be a “slam dunk.” As of Monday morning, a day before an expected high-profile Senate vote, the ball appears to be hovering above the rim.

Illinois Democratic Sen. Dick Durbin, the party’s Whip, said Sunday that the pipeline’s proponents have nabbed 59 votes as of Friday. All 45 Republicans are expected to vote for the bill, requiring 15 Democratic votes for passage. The two independents—Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont and Sen. Angus King of Maine—are no and “likely no,” respectively, according to a congressional aide.

“Well, we were one vote short as we left last week,” said Durbin on CNN’s State of the Union Sunday. “But I know they’re burning up the phone lines and e-mails trying to find that vote to support the procedural move. I don’t know how successful they have been.”

Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-La.) is leading the effort to 60 in the midst of a heated runoff reelection race against Republican Louisiana Rep. Bill Cassidy, who sponsored identical Keystone legislation that passed the House Friday. Durbin acknowledged Sunday that the Keystone vote is political, as “every indication” predicts that President Obama will veto the three-page bill.

“Every indication is, the president will veto an attempt to preempt the regular process of reviewing the permit for this pipeline,” said Durbin on CNN. “I think that it should go through the orderly process. The Republicans believe that the president’s power should be taken away, it should be moved on a fast track. But, remember, the oil that is going to flow through that pipeline is not going to be used in the United States or reduce gas prices in the United States.”

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