A member of the House Republican leadership is facing controversy over having addressed a conference of white supremacists in 2002. But Rep. Steve Scalise, the House Majority Whip, is not the first congressional leader to face a scandal. Here’s a look at six lawmakers who ended up resigning over scandals.
New York Rep. Michael Grimm announced that he will resign a week after pleading guilty to a federal tax evasion charge. Grimm won reelection to a third term in November despite his legal troubles.
“The events which led to this day did not break my spirit, nor the will of the voters,” said Grimm in a statement. “However, I do not believe that I can continue to be 100% effective in the next Congress, and therefore, out of respect for the Office and the people I so proudly represent, it is time for me to start the next chapter of my life.”
Grimm, a former FBI agent and Marine who represents Staten Island and parts of Brooklyn, pleaded guilty on December 23 to one count of aiding the preparation of a false tax return and faces up to three years in prison for the charge. Prosecutors unveiled a 20-count indictment in April for underreporting over a million dollars in wages and earnings at his Manhattan restaurant Healthalicious, among other charges.
Grimm’s congressional career has been marked by personal conduct issues. He memorably threatened on air that he would throw a reporter over a balcony after the reporter asked a question about campaign finance allegations. Grimm later apologized.
Grimm’s resignation is effective on Jan. 5, a day before the House convenes. His sentencing is scheduled for June 8.
“It has been an honor and a privilege to serve the hardworking families on both sides of the Verrazano, and I am sincerely grateful for the love and support that I have received from so many over the past few difficult months,” added Grimm in his statement. “I have seen first-hand how extraordinary the people of this district are—their values, their love of community, and their care for each other in the best and worst of times—it is humbling. I am grateful, and I will always keep them in my prayers.”
Steve Scalise, the third-ranking Republican in the House, knows well how the Washington game of target and destroy is played.
Long before he admitted on Monday to accidentally speaking before a 2002 conference organized by white supremacists, the Louisiana Congressman was playing offense and winning. His target was Van Jones, a former Obama Administration official who had worked on clean energy initiatives. “The last green jobs czar we had left in disgrace because he expressed comments embracing communism and actually tried to blame the government, the American government, for September 11th attacks,” Scalise said in 2011.
The facts surrounding Jones’ views on the Sept. 11 attacks were far less cut and dry. Jones’ name had been added to a 2004 online petition that suggested President George W. Bush “may indeed have deliberately allowed 9/11 to happen, perhaps as a pretext for war.” When the petition surfaced, Jones said the document “does not reflect my views now or ever.” He said his name had been added by mistake, and he had never read the document. But as the game is played, Jones lost the round. He was tagged as the Obama Administration official who had signed a truther petition, and resigned his job.
More than five years later, Scalise finds himself in the same uncomfortable position. He attended a 2002 event organized by a group called the European-American Unity and Rights Organization, or EURO, which was founded by David Duke, a former leader of the Ku Klux Klan. Around the time of his speech, EURO’s website had pictures of the Confederate flag, promised to “protect American and Southern heritage,” and included a link called “Understanding Jewish Supremacism.”
Like Jones, Scalise says this is all a misunderstanding. He says he detests the “kind of views” peddled by EURO and did not know about the group at the time, and attended the event by mistake. “I didn’t have a scheduler back then,” he told the New Orleans Times-Picayune on Monday. I was without the advantages of a tool like Google.”
As of yet, no definitive evidence has surfaced to demonstrate any differently. There were reports in the press at the time about the toxic nature of the meeting, but no indication that Scalise read them before he attended. A Louisiana blogger uncovered a contemporaneous description on a white supremacist listserv from someone who claimed to have heard the remarks. “Representative Scalise brought into sharp focus the dire circumstances pervasive in many important, under-funded needs of the community at the expense of graft within the Housing and Urban Development Fund, an apparent give-away to a selective group based on race,” the account reads. But its veracity is unconfirmed.
A 1999 report in Roll Call surfaced, with Scalise saying of Duke that he was unelectable, and “the novelty has worn off,” while at the same time saying they embraced many of the same conservative views. Later, in 2004, Scalise condemned Duke more directly. “David Duke is an embarrassment to our district and his message of hate only serves to divide us,” Scalise told a local business trade publication.
But as with Jones, the case of Scalise is quickly moving beyond the evidence-gathering phase. The details often don’t matter if the soundbite stings. The game is not played for justice, but to win.
Just as Jones became the Obama official who signed the 9/11 truther petition, Scalise has become the Republican leader who attended the white supremacist conference. Jones ended up getting a job as a liberal pundit for CNN. Scalise’s fate is now in the hands of his Republican colleagues.
Narendra Modi issues five ordinances (akin to executive orders) in a matter of days
Prime Minister Narendra Modi rushed out three ordinances in a day on Monday, as part of his attempt to galvanize desperately needed reforms to the Indian economy. The blitz follows two ordinances last week.
The most important of Monday’s ordinances — a legislative tool akin to an executive order — called for a relaxing of land acquisition rules in several key sectors, in an attempt to remove regulatory barriers to projects worth nearly $300 billion.
“The priority of the government was to bring a balance between the interests of the farmers and the development needs of the society,” said finance minister Arun Jaitley, speaking to reporters.
The ordinance will apply to projects related to defense, rural electrification, affordable housing and industrial corridors, Reuters reports. Under the new rules, initiators of such projects no longer need to seek consent from 80 percent of the people displaced by the work, as they were required to do by the previous administration. The requirement for a social impact assessment before a project begins has also been done away with.
The other two ordinances issued late Monday included changes to arbitration and conciliation laws, and one that merges the status of Person of Indian Origin (PIO) and Overseas Citizen of India (OCI), thereby making it easier for members of the Indian diaspora to get lifelong visas.
The two ordinances issued last week were aimed at increasing foreign investment in the insurance sector and allowing private sector involvement in coal mining.
All the ordinances still need to be approved by the Indian parliament during its next session, which begins in February, in order for them to take effect.
Modi’s recent push for reform is being met with resistance from the opposition in the upper house of parliament, where, unlike in the lower house, his Bharatiya Janata Party does not have a majority. The coal ordinance, for instance, was not ratified when it was initially proposed in November, prompting Modi to re-issue it last week.
Rep. Steve Scalise, a member of the House Republican leadership, reportedly acknowledged that he addressed a conference of white supremacists in 2002 when he was a Louisiana state representative.
Scalise, who was elected as Whip earlier this year, told the Washington Post that he attended a convention hosted by the European-American Unity and Rights Organization, which the Southern Poverty Law Center says is a hate-group founded in 2000 by former Ku Klux Klan leader and Louisiana state Representative David Duke.
Scalise’s spokesperson Moira Bagley told the Post that Scalise was unaware of the group’s racist ideology and spoke about reining in government spending. She added that the group is “abhorrent” and “in stark contradiction” to what Scalise believes, according to the Post.
“Throughout his career in public service, Mr. Scalise has spoken to hundreds of different groups with a broad range of viewpoints,” Bagley told the Post. “In every case, he was building support for his policies, not the other way around. In 2002, he made himself available to anyone who wanted to hear his proposal to eliminate slush funds that wasted millions of taxpayer dollars as well as his opposition to a proposed tax increase on middle-class families.”
She added, “He has never been affiliated with the abhorrent group in question. The hate-fueled ignorance and intolerance that group projects is in stark contradiction to what Mr. Scalise believes and practices as a father, a husband, and a devoted Catholic.”
Scalise’s attendance at the EURO event was reported first by Lamar White Jr., a Louisiana politics blogger who cited “recently uncovered posts on Stormfront, the Internet’s oldest and most notorious white nationalist and neo-Nazi forum.”
No immigration reform. No Supreme Court fight. No shutdown.
Let’s face it: 2014 was no 2008. As far as politics goes, this year won’t go down in American history as one of the more notable ones.
But sometimes it’s the things that didn’t happen that are more interesting. And some very big things didn’t happen this year, even though pundits and commentators once thought they might.
Here’s a look at the seven biggest things that didn’t happen in Washington in 2014.
The House never passed an immigration reform bill.
What might have happened: In June of 2013, the Senate passed a bipartisan overhaul of the nation’s immigration laws. The House could have voted on that bill or passed its own version.
Who thought it would happen: Some Republicans. Many party leaders thought Republicans needed to put the immigration issue behind them in order to win the White House in 2016.
Why it didn’t happen: House Republicans sat the issue out. Speaker John Boehner never brought the Senate bill to the House floor or offered an alternative.
Could it happen next year? Not likely. When President Obama deferred deportation for millions on his own in November, Boehner argued that he had poisoned the well.
There was no big Supreme Court nomination fight.
What might have happened: With four justices born in the 1930s, one could have retired, following in the footsteps of former Justices David Souter, Sandra Day O’Connor and John Paul Stevens.
Who thought it would happen: Some liberal court-watchers suggested that Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, 81, should step down to ensure a Democratic-appointed successor.
Why it didn’t happen: They weren’t interested. For her part, Ginsburg noted that she’s still capable of doing the work and she seems to be having the time of her life.
Could it happen next year? Unlikely. The combination of a Democratic president and a Republican Senate would give both liberal and conservative justices pause.
Republicans never settled on an alternative to Obamacare.
What might have happened: Republicans in Congress could have gotten serious about the “replace” in “repeal and replace” and introduced an official alternative to the Affordable Care Act.
Who thought it would happen: Former House Majority Leader Eric Cantor. In January, he said the party would “rally around an alternative to Obamacare and pass it on the floor of the House.”
Why it didn’t happen: Election-year politics. An official Republican alternative would have been a sitting target for Democratic candidates.
Could it happen next year? Not likely. Republicans may now control all of Congress, but as long as they can’t get their plan past the president’s desk, there’s little incentive to produce one.
Congress didn’t debate tax reform.
What might have happened: The House Ways and Means Committee chairman Dave Camp’s tax reform plan, unveiled in February, could have sparked a serious effort to reform the tax code.
Who thought it would happen: Camp. He argued that Congress has an “obligation to debate the big issues of the day.” His plan was also praised by Rep. Paul Ryan, who called it a “terrific first step.”
Why it didn’t happen: Election-year politics. Passing tax reform would mean picking fights with a number of special interests and handing the president a win.
Could it happen next year? Probably not. Political observers now think the tax reform debate probably won’t begin in earnest until at least 2017.
The government didn’t shut down.
What might have happened: Conservatives angry over President Obama’s immigration and liberals angry over the repeal of some Wall Street oversight could have shut the government down.
Who thought it would happen: After last year’s bruising shutdown, no one thought it would happen again, but Congress came pretty close in December.
Why it didn’t happen: Both sides punted. The trillion-dollar spending bill passed earlier this month funded the government through September, but it left open a fight over immigration funding.
Could it happen next year? It’s unlikely. Even if conservatives pick a fight over immigration next year, it would only affect one federal agency, Homeland Security.
Obama didn’t become a powerless lame duck.
What might have happened: President Obama could have coasted into the final, lame-duck years of his presidency, wary of taking risks that might hurt Hillary Clinton in 2016.
Who thought it would happen: Some commentators and pundits already said that it had, slamming him for being passive and uninspiring.
Why it didn’t happen: Obama got energized. After Democrats lost the midterms, Obama took bold steps on immigration and reopening diplomatic relations with Cuba.
Could it happen next year? Certainly. There’s only so much the president can do on his own, so at some point he’ll be stuck either vetoing or approving Republican plans.
Congress didn’t find an intelligence failure on Benghazi.
What might have happened: The House Intelligence Committee could have unveiled dramatic, damning findings after a two-year investigation into the Benghazi attacks in Libya.
Who thought it would happen: Republicans. Despite multiple investigations into the attacks, many conservatives have been certain they’ll find a smoking gun.
Why it didn’t happen: The House committee didn’t find anything. The report, which was pushed out quietly on a Friday, found “no intelligence failure prior to the attacks.”
Could it happen next year? Unlikely. Rep. Trey Gowdy, who chairs the House Benghazi Committee, has promised more hearings, but it’s hard to imagine he’ll find anything new.
Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul is celebrating Festivus again this year with a series of tweets. But let’s face it, it’s basically Festivus all year round in the Senate.
• The made-up holiday from TV’s “Seinfeld” begins with a celebratory dinner. Senators hold fundraisers at fancy restaurants to celebrate themselves all the time.
• People celebrating Festivus then hold the Airing of Grievances to explain how other people have disappointed them. In the Senate, this is called “Morning Business.”
• Then there are the Feats of Strength, in which Festivus revelers fight each other. Senators hold similar face-offs by trying to show how long they can filibuster. (Paul’s went nearly 13 hours.)
• Plus there’s the Festivus miracle, in which a rather minor bit of good news is celebrated beyond its actual importance. The Senate regularly congratulates itself for doing simple things like passing a budget.
• Finally, there’s the Festivus pole. The Capitol is filled with plain white columns. And if anyone knows about polls, it’s members of Congress.
While Paul may think he’s bringing Festivus to the nation’s capital, in reality, he’s just helping spread the traditions of the Senate to the rest of the country.
Only a small percentage of retirees are directly affected by the new rule. But future legislation may lead to more pension cutbacks.
The last-minute deal to allow retiree pension benefit cuts as part of the federal spending bill for 2015 passed by Congress last week has set off shock waves in the U.S. retirement system.
Buried in the $1.1 trillion “Cromnibus” legislation signed this week by President Barack Obama was a provision that aims to head off a looming implosion of multiemployer pension plans—traditional defined benefit plans jointly funded by groups of employers. The pension reforms affect only retirees in struggling multiemployer pension plans, but any retiree living on a defined benefit pension could rightly wonder: Am I next?
“Even people who aren’t impacted directly by this would have to ask themselves: If they’re doing that, what’s to stop them from doing it to me?” says Jeff Snyder, vice president of Cammack Retirement Group, a consulting and investment advisory firm that works with retirement plans.
The answer: plenty. Private sector pensions are governed by the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA), which prevents cuts for retirees in most cases. The new legislation doesn’t affect private sector workers in single-employer plans. Workers and retirees in public sector pension plans also are not affected by the law.
Here are answers to some of the key questions workers and retirees should be asking in the legislation’s wake.
Q: Cutting benefits for people who already are retired seems unfair. Why was this done?
A: Proponents argue it was better to preserve some pension benefit for workers in the most troubled plans rather than letting plans collapse. The multiemployer plans are backstopped by the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corp (PBGC), the federally sponsored agency that insures private sector pensions. The multiemployer fund was on track to run out of money within 10 years—a date that could be hastened if healthy companies withdraw from their plans. If the multiemployer backup system had been allowed to collapse, pensioners would have been left with no benefit.
Opponents, including AARP and the Pension Rights Center, argued that cutting benefits for current retirees was draconian and established a bad precedent.
Q: Who will be affected by the new law? If I have a traditional pension, should I worry?
A: Only pensioners in multiemployer plans are at risk, and even there, the risk is limited to retirees in “red zone” plans—those that are severely underfunded. Of the 10 million participants in multiemployer plans, perhaps 1 million will see some cuts. The new law also prohibits any cuts for beneficiaries over age 80, or who receive a disability pension.
Q: What will be the size of the cuts?
A: That is up to plan trustees. However, the maximum cuts permitted under the law are dramatic. Many retirees in these troubled plans were well-paid union workers who receive substantial pension benefits. For a retiree with 25 years of service and a $25,000 annual benefit, the maximum annual cut permitted under the law is $13,200, according to a cutback calculator at the Pension Rights Center’s website.
The cuts must be approved by a majority of all the active and retired workers in a plan (not just a majority of those who vote).
Q: How do I determine if I’m at risk?
A: Plan sponsors are required to send out an annual funding notice indicating the funding status of your program. Plans in the red zone must send workers a “critical status alert.” If you’re in doubt, Snyder suggests, “just call your retirement plan administrator,” Snyder says. “Simply ask, if you have cause for concern. Is your plan underfunded?”
The U.S. Department of Labor’s website maintains a list of plans on the critical list.
Q: How quickly would the cuts be made?
A: If a plan’s trustees decide to make cuts, a notice would be sent to workers. Snyder says implementation would take at least six months, and might require “a year or more.”
Q: Am I safe if I am in a single employer pension plan?
A: When the PBGC takes over a private sector single employer plan, about 85% of beneficiaries receive the full amount of their promised benefit. The maximum benefit paid by PBGC this year is $59,320.
Q: Does this law make it more likely that we’ll see efforts to cut other retiree benefits?
A: That will depend on the political climate in Washington, and in statehouses across the country. In a previous column I argued that the midterm elections results boost the odds of attacks on public sector pensions, Social Security and Medicare.
Sadly, the Cromnibus deal should serve as a warning that full pension benefits aren’t a sure thing anymore. So having a Plan B makes sense. “If you have a defined benefit pension, great,” Snyder says. “But you should still be putting money away to make sure you have something to rely on in the future.”
The three Cuban-American senators bashed the Obama Administration’s decision to release three Cubans held by the United States on the same day Cuba released an American contractor it had held for years.
New Jersey Democratic Senator Robert Menendez slammed the Administration, calling it an “asymmetrical trade”—a description the Administration rebuts—that “sets a dangerous precedent” and will “invite further belligerence toward Cuba’s opposition movement and the hardening of the government’s dictatorial hold on its people.”
“It invites dictatorial and rogue regimes to use Americans serving overseas as bargaining chips,” said Menendez, the outgoing chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, in a statement. “I fear that today’s actions will put at risk the thousands of Americans that work overseas to support civil society, advocate for access to information, provide humanitarian services, and promote democratic reforms.”
Menendez added that Alan Gross, who was providing satellite communications equipment to the island’s Jewish population, should have been released “immediately and unconditionally” when he was captured five years ago. Florida Republican Sen. Marco Rubio, who along with Menendez and Texas Republican Sen. Ted Cruz are the only senators with Cuban roots, criticized the trade for legitimatizing the Cuban narrative about Gross’ work in Cuba, as the three Cubans the U.S. released were prosecuted in court on espionage charges. Cuba also released an unnamed U.S. intelligence asset who has been imprisoned for 20 years.
The Administration announced Gross’ release as part of a major shift to normalize full diplomatic relations with President Raúl Castro’s government after they were largely cut off fifty-three years ago. A senior Administration official said the U.S. embassy would open “as soon as possible” in Havana and that the Administration would authorize expanded exports and imports from Cuba. U.S. credit and debit cards will also be permitted for use in Cuba for the first time, among other changes. Rubio and Cruz ripped the moves, which the Administration touted were historic.
“The President’s decision to reward the Castro regime and begin the path toward the normalization of relations with Cuba is inexplicable,” said Rubio in a statement. “Cuba, like Syria, Iran, and Sudan, remains a state sponsor of terrorism…Appeasing the Castro brothers will only cause other tyrants from Caracas to Tehran to Pyongyang to see that they can take advantage of President Obama’s naiveté during his final two years in office. As a result, America will be less safe as a result of the President’s change in policy.”
“Fidel and Raul Castro have just received both international legitimacy and a badly-needed economic lifeline from President Obama,” added Cruz. “We have seen how previous Obama Administration attempts at rapprochement with rogue regimes like Russia and Iran have worked out, with our influence diminished and our enemies emboldened. Now they are revisiting this same disastrous policy with the Castros, blind to the fact that they are being played by brutal dictators whose only goal is maintaining power. And if history be our guide, the Castros will exploit that power to undermine America and oppress the Cuban people.”
Not all senators were so critical of the Administration. After Gross’ release, Maryland Democratic Sen. Barbara Mikulski called Wednesday “a new day and a monumental breakthrough.” Illinois Democratic Sen. Dick Durbin told the Washington Post that the White House and the Vatican had been trying to ensure Gross’ release for more than a year and praised the Administration for attempting to patch U.S.-Cuba relations.
“I think most will acknowledge that our foreign policy for over half a century has not been successful,” said Durbin.“We had hoped by excluding Cuba and pressuring Cuba that the regime would change and it never happened. I think this opening the door to free travel and trade and exchange of realities is going to have a more positive impact in changing Cuba than 50 years of foreign policy.”
With reporting by Zeke J Miller/Washington, D.C.
It'll set up a confrontation with President Obama.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said Tuesday that the first priority for the new Republican-controlled Senate next year would be to pass a bill authorizing the Keystone XL pipeline, setting up an early confrontation with an Obama Administration hesitant to ignite opposition from its green supporters.
“We’ll be starting next year with a job-creating bill that enjoys significant bipartisan support,” said McConnell.
Alaska Senator Lisa Murkowski, a top Republican on the Energy Committee, said that the bipartisan measure was important as it would “basically set the table” for the new Congress. Both McConnell and Murkowski pledged that the bill would be open for amendments and acknowledged the fear that senators could bring unrelated ones that could sink the bill. Their hope is that most senators would prefer “regular order” instead of tactics that limit rank-and-file members’ influence. Many senators, including some Democrats, grew frustrated with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid for limiting the amendment process to protect vulnerable members of his party during the midterm cycle.
“When we say it’s open for amendments, it’s open for amendments,” said Murkowski. “Santa Claus is going to be keeping me awake, not worrying about what’s going to come.”
Authorizing the Keystone XL pipeline has been a dream for senators from the Great Plains to the Gulf of Mexico. In her failed reelection bid, Louisiana Democratic Senator Mary Landrieu fell one vote short of rallying enough of her fellow Democrats to pass the bill a few weeks ago.
The 1,179-mile pipeline has been blocked for years despite a State Department report concluding that it would not have a significant effect on greenhouse gas emissions. But study also found that it would create a small number of permanent jobs—around 50—and was published before a dramatic drop in oil and gas prices that could boost environmentalists’ opposition of the pipeline. The Keystone pipeline’s fate could also be taken out of Congress’ hands entirely, depending on a Nebraska court case that could alter its path down the heart of the country.