TIME Congress

Longtime California Senator to Retire from Congress

Barbara Boxer
Bill Clark—CQ Roll Call/Getty Images Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., speaks during the Senate Democrats' news conference after the Senate's vote on the "Paycheck Fairness Act" in Washington on Sept. 10, 2014.

"I want to come home," Barbara Boxer said

Longtime California Sen. Barbara Boxer announced Thursday that she won’t run for reelection in 2016, setting the stage for one of the most expensive Senate races in the nation.

In a video posted on YouTube, Boxer, a Democrat who has been fielding rumors of her retirement for months, announced she would not seek a fifth term in the Senate. “I want to come home,” she told her grandson in the video. “I want to come home to the state that I love so much, California.”

“I am never going to retire,” she said. “The work is too important. But I will not be running for the Senate in 2016.”

Her announcement sets up a scramble in California politics, where the state’s “jungle primary” pits the top two primary finishers against each other in a general election regardless of party. Democrats already being mentioned for the seat include Attorney General Kamala Harris, Lt. Governor Gavin Newsom, former Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and billionaire environmentalist Tom Steyer. Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti ruled himself out of contention hours after Boxer’s announcement:

Boxer’s campaign committee raised just $342,387 from Jan. 1, 2013 to Sept. 30, 2014, according to Federal Election Commission records, a stunningly small figure for one of the most senior Democrats in the Senate from one of the wealthiest states. Before Republicans regained control of the Senate this week, Boxer was the chair of the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works.

In 2010, Boxer defeated former Hewlett-Packard executive Carly Fiorina in the state by a margin of 10 percentage points.

TIME Congress

Republicans in Congress Just Made it Easier to Cut Taxes

Views Of The U.S. Capitol As Republicans Take Control Of The Senate
Andrew Harrer—Bloomberg via Getty Images Nov. 5, 2014. Scaffolding surrounds the U.S. Capitol building while it undergoes repairs in Washington, D.C. Republicans roared back in the midterm elections on Tuesday, capturing control of the Senate from Democrats, winning crucial governor races and solidifying their majority in the U.S. House of Representatives.

In one of the first items of Congressional business yesterday, Republicans gave themselves a new magic wand. When you wave it over a major piece of tax legislation, it has the effect of making the bill appear to be really good for the economy.

Republicans say the magic wand reveals the actual economic impact of the bill. But Democrats worry it’s nothing more than dangerous accounting voodoo that will have the effect of making fiscally irresponsible legislation appear good.

The magic wand at issue here is “dynamic scoring,” an accounting method for determining how a piece of legislation will affect the U.S. macroeconomy down the line.

As of yesterday, House Republicans voted on a rule change that requires the Congressional Budget Office and the Joint Committee on Taxation—both nonpartisan entities—to use dynamic scoring when analyzing the economic impact of major tax and entitlement bills. That means that from now on, CBO and JCT will analyze tax and entitlement legislation differently than they used to, and differently than they analyze other major legislation, such as education or infrastructure bills.

That could change the political calculus of upcoming tax reform legislation substantially. After all, depending on what economic models are used, the same bill could be seen to either cost the U.S. Treasury tens of millions of dollars, or save it billions. For example, Ways and Means Chairman Dave Camp’s comprehensive tax reform bill last year was slated to save U.S. taxpayers either $50 billion or $700 billion in the next decade.

Analysts agree that the Republicans’ rule change mandating the use of dynamic scoring is designed to help them push through major tax cuts by underscoring the most positive impacts such legislation could have on the future economy.

Republicans, such as Georgia’s Tom Price, the new chairman of the House Budget Committee, insist that it’s just a common sense tweak. “We’re saying, ‘If you think a piece of legislation is going to have a big effect on the economy, then include that effect in the official cost estimate,’” Price wrote in a statement. “So if you think a bill is going to help or hurt the economy, then tell us how much you think it will increase jobs, tax revenue—and vice versa. We need to take that into account.”

Democrats like Sens. Chuck Schumer and Bernie Sanders, meanwhile, have screamed bloody murder. Dynamic scoring, they say, is an accounting trick that exaggerates the real cost of some bills while masking the real cost of others.

House Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer said the rule change politicizes the accounting process. “What it means is the Republicans will be able to hide the true costs of tax cuts behind a debunked mantra that tax cuts pay for themselves. They do not,” he said on the House floor Tuesday afternoon, pointing out that deficit hawks should be up in arms, too. “This provision will allow them to explode the deficit, as they did the last time they were in charge.”

Several Democrats quoted Bruce Bartlett, a former Reagan and George H.W. Bush administration official who condemned “dynamic scoring” as a sneaky and conniving political move. “It’s not about honest revenue-estimating,” he said. “It’s about using smoke and mirrors to institutionalize Republican ideology into the budget process.”

TIME Congress

Why One Republican Decided to Vote Against Boehner Over Just a Few Hours

Rep. Scott Rigell first learned of a challenge to John Boehner Tuesday morning. A few hours later, he voted against him.

At 11:52 a.m. Tuesday, Virginia Republican Rep. Scott Rigell was watching C-SPAN in the Capitol. He was still thinking of supporting Speaker John Boehner’s re-election, when he saw a backbencher’s name splash across the screen as a potential challenger. Rigell then sought out the upstart—Florida Republican Rep. Daniel Webster—on the House floor and confirmed that he would serve if he won. Even though Rigell knew the likelihood of that happening was low, he ended up voting for Webster a few hours later.

“To go to from voting for the Speaker to voting for Mr. Webster there’s an intense amount of thought in a relatively short amount of time,” he said.

In the biggest defection in at least 100 years, according to the Washington Post, 25 Republicans voted against Boehner, who nonetheless went on to win a third term as Speaker. Most of the opposition came from the right of Rigell, with representatives like Louie Gohmert and Ted Yoho, two other members who officially ran against Boehner and might as well carry pitchforks when they stride into the Capitol.

But while the anti-Boehner crowd is loud and can sometimes move bills to the right, it lacks a leader. Yoho told TIME he jumped in only after an unnamed conservative who could corral their corps wouldn’t. And Webster, who got 12 votes, didn’t whip anyone to vote for him, according to Rigell, and Gohmert and Yoho received only five votes total.

For his part, Rigell’s vote was “simply [a] connection between the calendar and the appropriations bills.” He wants a Speaker which would cancel extended breaks like the summer recess “unless and until” all 12 appropriations bills have been voted upon. He holds Boehner in “high regard” for lowering discretionary spending, but talks of changing the institution itself. Of course, Boehner isn’t the only to blame; while the appropriations process has been largely negotiated behind close doors by the top congressional leaders, it has rarely passed all 12 of the aforementioned bills in decades.

Still, Boehner’s allies noted that the vast majority of House Republicans—216—voted for Boehner.

“Under his leadership in this new Congress we will pass strong, conservative legislation which will make its way to the president’s desk,” said Louisiana Rep. Steve Scalise, the GOP Whip, in a statement. “Speaker Boehner’s commitment to bold, conservative solutions that reflect the priorities of the American people will move America forward and help get our country back on the right track.”

TIME Congress

Harry Reid Laments He Wasn’t Hurt While Boxing

Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid wasn’t able to make it to Capitol Hill today for the first day of the new Congress, but in a new video he pledged to keep fighting.

The Nevada Democrat, who broke bones in his face and three ribs while exercising at home on New Year’s Day, stayed at his home in Washington on the order of doctors.

But in a video posted on YouTube, he said he was feeling some “homesickness” that he couldn’t be on the Hill for what is now his 33rd year in office. Instead, he met with other Democratic leaders at home to discuss how to “continue to fight for good things for this country.”

Reid, a former amateur lightweight boxer, also lamented that he wasn’t injured in a more glamorous way.

“As most people know, I fought for a couple of years. After any one of those fights, I never looked like I do now,” he said.” However, I didn’t get this black eye by sparring with Manny; by challenging Floyd Mayweather; I didn’t go bull-riding; I wasn’t riding a motorcycle. I was exercising in my new home.”

 

TIME Congress

Boehner Re-Elected House Speaker

The 114th Congress voted to reelect Speaker John Boehner to a third term at the House’s top post after a small group of conservatives brought a minor scare to elect a backbencher.

The vote to elect the Speaker of the “New American Congress,” as Republicans are calling it, had the atmosphere of kids at the first day of school, with members laughing at those who caused a scene—like Massachusetts Rep. Michael Capuano, who voted for “Nancy D’ALESSANDRO Pelosi” in a shout, and Florida Rep. Ted Yoho—”YOHO!”—who voted for himself. Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi and Georgia Rep. John Lewis, who were sitting an aisle apart, shared a bewildered glance and a smile when Arizona Rep. Kyrsten Sinema cast a vote for Lewis. Texas Rep. Louie Gohmert gave off an excellent “why not” shrug when he voted for himself for Speaker.

There were several unexpected votes, including ones for former Secretary of State Colin Powell, Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul and Alabama Sen. Jeff Sessions. First-year members who campaigned against the Washington establishment like Virginia Republican Rep. Dave Brat, who beat former Majority Leader Eric Cantor in his primary, and Florida Democrat Gwen Graham voted against their party leaders and for South Carolina Rep. Jeff Duncan and Tennessee Rep. Jim Cooper, respectively. The majority of the anti-Boehner conservatives votes went to Republican Rep. Dan Webster, a little-known member outside of Florida where he has served as the state’s House speaker and Senate Majority Leader, who garnered 12 votes. The opposition to Boehner proved to be loud enough to hear but not strong enough to really matter.

Kansas Rep. Tim Huelskamp, a frequent critic of Boehner, voted for Webster but said he didn’t ask anyone to oppose the Speaker.

“There is a lot of power in that office; I know some folks feel a lot of pressure and feel like they are being intimidated,” said Huelskamp, who criticized the way the congressional leadership brought to the floor the end of the year government spending bill. “And that is part of the problem. Speaker Boehner promised an open process and that hasn’t happened. As we saw in the CROmnibus—a 1,600 page bill thrown down and we had less than two days to read it and no chance to allow amendments—that is exactly what he told us he would change about the previous Speaker.”

The vast majority of Republicans and Democrats voted for their party’s leader; 216 cast votes for Boehner and 164 for Pelosi out of 408 total votes. Texas Rep. Pete Sessions, who supported Boehner and chairs the Rules Committee, said that he was excited for the new session but recognized the concerns of vocal conservatives who voted against Boehner.

“It’s a wake up call for everybody,” said Sessions. “We need to be aware that we got to do a better job to effectively communicate what we stand for and why we’re here. When you take $200 million away from the IRS because you’ve been trying to do that for four years, and people don’t respect that even though they had asked for it, then there’s a problem.”

“Go and set some new expectations of what to call a victory,” he added.

In his speech after the vote, Boehner asked the House to “stand tall and prove the skeptics wrong.”

TIME Congress

See John Boehner’s Giant Gavel

John Boehner, Nancy Pelosi
Pablo Martinez Monsivais—AP House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio, kisses House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi of Calif. after being re-elected to a third term during the opening session of the 114th Congress on Capitol Hill in Washington on Jan. 6, 2015.

John Boehner took control of the House of Representatives for his third term as Speaker on Tuesday, and as before, he went for an attention-grabbing gavel.

The gavel, which seems to be the legislative equivalent of Thor’s hammer Mjölnir, was made by hand by one of Boehner’s Ohio constituents just after the November 2010 elections that first propelled Republicans into the majority, according to the New York Times.

As part of a longstanding tradition, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi presented Boehner with the gavel and the two shared an awkward hug.

As TIME previously noted, the gavel is not the one he uses every day. Those smaller gavels come from the House Carpentry Shop, which makes them on site from maple wood.

TIME Congress

Meet the Longshot Candidates Who Lost to John Boehner

Some of them aren't even House members

House Republicans unhappy with Speaker John Boehner had no lack of options for a protest vote. Officially, there were three conservatives running longshot campaigns against the Ohio Republican. But thanks to a constitutional quirk that the Speaker doesn’t even have to be a House member, they could pretty much vote for whomever they wanted.

And they did. Here’s a quick look at some of the names that got at least one vote for Speaker of the House before Boehner ultimately prevailed Tuesday:

Rep. Ted Yoho: Only in his second term, the Florida Republican was the first conservative to offer himself up as an alternative to Boehner. He got two votes, including one from himself.

Rep. Louie Gohmert: The Texas Republican led the most visible campaign for speaker, but his penchant for putting conservative ideas into easily ridiculed soundbites cost him some support. Including himself, he got three votes.

Rep. Daniel Webster: The low-profile Florida Republican was a late-breaking addition to the race and seemed to function as a placeholder for Boehner critics. He did the best, getting 12 votes, including himself.

Rep. Jim Jordan: The Ohio Republican got two votes from other lawmakers. But while he voted against Boehner in 2013, he came around this time and backed the incumbent.

Sen. Rand Paul: The Kentucky Republican isn’t even a member of the House, but he’s got at least one fan. Paul was the only potential 2016 contender to get a token vote for Speaker.

Also receiving votes: Sen. Jeff Sessions of Alabama, Rep. Jeff Duncan of South Carolina and House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, who each got one. Among Democrats, Reps. John Lewis of Georgia, Peter DeFazio of Oregon, Jim Cooper of Tennessee and former Secretary of State Colin Powell each got one protest vote.

TIME The Brief

#TheBrief: Meet the Freshman Class in Congress

The House will welcome 58 mostly Republican freshmen

Congress will swear in its most diverse group of lawmakers in U.S. history this week.

The newly formed group’s demographic breakdown is as follows: 104 women; 100 black, Asian, Native American, or Hispanic members; and Congress’ first black female Republican.

Age is also a diversifying factor. The youngest women elected to congress will be joining at 30-years-old, and several other young lawmakers will be joining her.

To find out more about the newest lawmakers in D.C. watch #TheBrief.

TIME Congress

10 Members of Congress to Watch in 2015

Though much of the attention in Congress focuses on the leaders, there are times when rank-and-file members can stand out. For some, that may be because they are readying a run for the White House. For others, it’s because a pet topic is taking center stage. And for others, it’s because they’ve built up power in other ways.

As the 114th Congress is sworn in, here are 10 members to watch.

Sen. John Hoeven

The first Senate bill out of the gate will concern the approval of the Keystone XL pipeline, according to McConnell. In November, toward the end of her failed reelection bid, Louisiana Sen. Mary Landrieu failed to get a bill passed by one vote. North Dakota Sen. John Hoeven and the GOP leadership will now lead the effort to pass his bill across the finish line as Democrats attempt to add “poison pill” amendments. The final hurdle will be President Obama, who recently warned in an interview with NPR that he will use his veto pen to defend his environmental legacy. On Dec. 19 during his end of the year press conference, Obama added to speculation that he would veto the legislation, saying that Keystone wouldn’t give an even “nominal benefit” to American consumers.

Sen. Rand Paul

Paul has earned the epithet of the Most Interesting Man in Politics—including from TIME—for attempting to mesh his libertarian beliefs with his White House dreams. He has earned the accolades of Republican establishment types like McConnell while taking numerous positions they oppose in speeches to constituencies they never captured. Paul, who has dropped heavy-handed hints he will run for President in 2016, will remain in the mix next year on a number of topics, whether that’s police demilitarization, oversight of the National Security Agency, criminal justice reform, or congressional authorization for the use of military force in Syria. While little headway is expected on most of those fronts, Paul will keep those issues—and himself—in the limelight.

Sen. Marco Rubio

Rubio will be the go-to anti-Obama point man on all things Cuba this year. McConnell deferred to his judgment after Obama’s major announcement that the U.S. will begin to normalize diplomatic relations with the communist country for the first time in more than five decades. Paul, who agrees with the Administration on Cuba, and Rubio, a Cuban-American, will have a platform on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee to air out their differences in a potential preview of the 2016 Republican presidential debates. Cuba is the latest of many topics Rubio has tackled; he has led efforts on immigration reform (and subsequently backed away), anti-poverty and tax reform, among others.

Rep. Michael McCaul

After they rejected the Senate’s comprehensive, bipartisan immigration reform bill in 2013, Boehner and his top lieutenants failed to present a broad alternative fix to a deeply flawed immigration system. In November, Boehner warned that Obama would get burned if he addressed immigration in a broad executive order. Obama did it anyway—delaying deportation for up to five million undocumented immigrants—leaving Boehner with few good options to respond outside of passing reform legislation.

Enter McCaul, the House Homeland Security Committee Chairman. In the first few months of 2015, he is expected to introduce a border security bill that he says could ease the passage of other immigration bills in the step-by-step process the House GOP has deemed acceptable. McCaul could add his legislation to the upcoming bill to fund the Department of Homeland Security past its current Feb. 27 deadline.

It’s unclear, however, if the Republican-dominated Congress will follow-up and pass subsequent immigration bills. The Wall Street Journal reports that other lawmakers, including Rubio, California Sen. Dianne Feinstein, and Idaho Rep. Raul Labrador, are preparing bills to reform the visa programs for high-tech, agricultural and low-skilled workers, among other things.

Sen. Orrin Hatch

From Obamacare to trade to taxes, incoming Senate Finance Chairman Orrin Hatch will have his hands in the pot of many hot topics this year. Obama will look to Republicans for support of a major 12-country trade deal known as the Trans-Pacific Partnership, an elusive, potential legacy-defining achievement for the president in his final two years. Hatch and Ohio Sen. Rob Portman—a former U.S. trade representative—along with House Ways and Means Chairman Paul Ryan and his Democratic counterpart, Rep. Sandy Levin, will be among the crucial figures on whether or not Congress grants Obama trade promotion authority.

Hatch—the most senior Republican in the Senate—will also play a role in reforming the president’s signature health care reform law. Last year, former House Majority Leader Eric Cantor promised to pass an Obamacare alternative. Republicans didn’t, haven’t coalesced around another and this year will take a pickaxe to the president’s signature law, like Hatch’s amendment to repeal a medical device tax that helps fund it. That proposal even has the support of liberal Democrats, including Sens. Amy Klobuchar, Elizabeth Warren and Al Franken. Republicans will still have a show vote to repeal the health care law, but they will also find ways to get smaller fixes on the president’s desk this year.

Rep. Jason Chaffetz

As evidenced by a recent article in the Washington Post, the Secret Service’s troubles didn’t end when Director Julia Pierson resigned after an intruder jumped the White House fence and ran inside. The agency suffers from a “combination of tight budgets, bureaucratic battles and rapidly growing demands” since 9/11, according to the Post, and Utah Rep. Jason Chaffetz, the incoming House Oversight Chairman, will use his new perch to investigate and offer reforms.

Sen. Sherrod Brown

The gruff and ruffled Senator from Ohio, Sherrod Brown, is the incoming top Democrat on the Banking committee. He’s a top defender of the Dodd-Frank financial reform bill designed to rein in Wall Street banks and will be tasked to defend the law from a Congress that managed to claw back some provisions in the end of the year spending bill. While Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren will nab more headlines—versions of the 2016 question “What Will Warren Want?” have already begun—Brown has been effective for liberal Democrats, helping drive pressure for Larry Summers to withdraw his candidacy for Federal Reserve chairman in 2013. Brown has already begun his effort to slow down Obama’s TPP deal, according to the Post, leading a strategy meeting with House Democrats.

Sen. Joe Manchin

One of the most conservative Democrats, West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin will be crucial for the GOP to pass anything with 60 votes next year. He already supports authorizing the Keystone XL pipeline and raising the Affordable Care Act’s workweek from 30 hours to 40 hours and could be pleased to see Congress work towards those goals. But Manchin, who was critical of Reid’s leadership, (in a June TIME profile, Manchin said he’s “never been in a less productive time in my life”) may still be so disgusted with how Washington works that he leaves to run for his former job as governor. In November, Manchin told TIME he would give the new McConnell-led Senate about three months to make his decision. If he chooses to leave, Manchin could imperil the Democrats’ chances of retaking the Senate in 2016.

Sen. Bob Corker

Corker was Washington Post columnist George Will‘s pick as the senator to watch in 2015, and for good reason. From his top spot on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Corker will be in the middle of every foreign policy debate, including how to deter Iran from pursuing nuclear weapons, “degrade and destroy” Islamic militants in Syria and Iraq and punish Russian aggression.

Sen. Ted Cruz

Cruz’s presidential ambitions and ability to coral the most conservative elements of Congress makes him always one to watch. Keep an eye out for Cruz as Congress decides how to extend the debt limit in the middle of the year and fund the Department of Homeland Security at the end of February. McConnell told the Post that he doesn’t want the public to think adding a Republican president to a Republican Congress will be “a scary outcome.” But Cruz’s power lies outside the establishment and creating outcomes that are indeed scary to it. Those two pinch points could draw the nation’s attention back to Cruz as he debates his future in Washington.

TIME Congress

Feinstein to Introduce Anti-Torture Legislation

Dianne Feinstein
Tom Williams—CQ-Roll Call,Inc. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., Chairwoman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, talks with reporters after sharing a report on the CIA and it's torture methods, December 9, 2014.

Outgoing Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Dianne Feinstein will propose new legislation next Congress to prevent future Administrations from approving torture.

Outlined in a letter to President Obama on Dec. 30, the measures would prohibit the intelligence community from using enhanced interrogation techniques like water-boarding that aren’t listed in the Army Field Manual or allow the CIA to hold detainees on anything other than a short-term basis. The moves would give legislative backing to previous executive orders signed into law by Obama in 2009 and “close all torture loopholes,” according to the letter.

Last month, Feinstein and other Democrats on the Intelligence Committee released its five-year report describing the George W. Bush Administration’s EITs as ineffective.

“These recommendations are intended to make sure that the United States never again engages in actions that you have acknowledged were torture,” she wrote, according to a statement released Monday.

Republicans, which will formally take over the Senate today, rebutted Feinstein’s torture report as a partisan affair and are unlikely to move on her proposals, which include other recommendations to increase executive and congressional oversight over the intelligence community. Republicans have also pointed to a December Washington Post-ABC poll which showed that a majority of Americans think that the CIA treatment of suspected terrorists was justified and that it would be in the future.

Without legislation, the anti-torture actions approved by President Obama could be overturned by a future president with the stroke of a pen.

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