Niels Lesniewski

Whip List: Obamacare Rollback Vote Nears Breaking Point
A handful more GOP opponents would doom measure

Enough Republicans appeared on the verge of voting against the House health care overhaul to require frantic lobbying and send House Speaker Paul D. Ryan to the White House as floor debate got underway Friday.

At least 20 House Republicans had already signaled opposition since the end of a Thursday evening huddle with top Trump administration officials in which Office of Management and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney delivered an ultimatum, saying President Donald Trump was done negotiating on partially repealing and replacing the 2010 health care law.

Senators Working the Ref Already on Health Care Bill
Parliamentarian rulings could make or break GOP legislation

As House Republicans struggle to cobble together the votes to pass legislation to repeal and replace the 2010 health care law, members are already looking to navigate the Senate’s labyrinth of procedural rules that could make or break the measure. 

Senate Democrats are already setting up for the battle with the parliamentarian about which provisions could run up against the Byrd Rule, which requires budget reconciliation bills that can pass with a simple-majority vote to be primarily about spending and revenues, without extraneous matter.

Are Trump and McConnell Preparing the Next SCOTUS Pick?
Kentucky judge is a favorite of Senate majority leader

LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Judge Neil Gorsuch’s confirmation hearing is still underway, but President Donald Trump may have laid the groundwork for his next Supreme Court pick Monday night in the Bluegrass State.

As Trump was on stage for a campaign-style rally at Freedom Hall, members of the Kentucky press corps were reporting that the president intends to nominate Judge Amul Thapar to fill an appellate seat for the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. The White House made it official on Tuesday.

McConnell and Paul Frame Outcome for GOP Health Care Overhaul
While majority leader rallies with Trump, Paul works against their plan

LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Over all the years that Mitch McConnell attended college basketball games at Freedom Hall, the Louisville alumnus probably never envisioned a scene like what played out Monday night.

The building was still a sea of red, but “Make America Great Again” hats had supplanted much of the Cardinals gear.

At Town Hall, Rand Paul Opposes GOP Health Plan
Kentucky senator headed back to D.C. before Trump rally in Louisville

ST. MATTHEWS, Ky. — Sen. Rand Paul is heading back to Capitol Hill before President Donald Trump arrives in Kentucky, citing the need to defeat the very bill that Trump is expected to tout in the Bluegrass State on Monday night. 

“I’ve got to get to Washington so I can work on the coalition that is trying to defeat the bill, so we’re not exactly on the same page on this,” Paul said Monday at a constituent event here.

Warren Taps Reid Aide Orthman as Senior Political Adviser
Massachusetts native will work for home state senator

Sen. Elizabeth Warren has brought on a top leadership aide to Sen. Harry Reid as a senior adviser to her political operation.

Kristen Orthman, who hails from the Boston suburbs, will be going to work for the Massachusetts Democrat after a run as communications director in the retired Nevada senator’s leadership office, as well as a senior adviser to the Nevada State Democratic Party ahead of the 2016 campaign cycle.

Fellow Clerks Push Gorsuch Confirmation
Nominee’s colleagues from time together in D.C. express support

Dozens of former law clerks of federal appeals judge David Sentelle have written to the Senate calling for quick confirmation of their onetime colleague Judge Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court.

“We work for law firms, public interest groups, private companies, government entities, and academic institutions. What unites us is our firm conviction that Judge Gorsuch is eminently qualified to serve on the nation’s highest court,” wrote the 60 Sentelle clerks.

Reacting to Trump Budget, Van Hollen Previews 2018 Message
DSCC chairman says budget will be ‘wake-up call’ to Trump voters

Previewing a likely political argument heading into 2018, Maryland Sen. Chris Van Hollen says the proposed reductions in President Donald Trump’s budget would disproportionately hit more rural, Republican areas.

“I think this is going to be a wake-up call to a lot of people who supported Donald Trump that his budget is betraying them,” Van Hollen, the chairman of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, said at a Thursday afternoon news conference on Capitol Hill. 

Fears Surface of Russian Hack of Congress IT System
Subcommittee told legislative branch is highly vulnerable

Senators’ examination of Russian efforts to undermine democracies took a turn that hit close to home on Wednesday, when witnesses openly speculated to the Judiciary Subcommittee on Crime and Terrorism that Congress itself was likely the victim of nefarious hacking.

When Sen. Ben Sasse, R-Neb., asked experts testifying about the likelihood of such an incursion, former Estonian President Toomas Hendrik Ilves offered it was “almost certain” congressional IT systems have been infiltrated by Russia’s security services, particularly if two-factor security is not deployed.

Former Senator Dan Coats Easily Confirmed as Intelligence Director
Retirement will have to wait

Former Sen. Dan Coats can formally say goodbye to his brief retirement.

His former Senate colleagues confirmed the Hoosier, 85-12, to be President Donald Trump’s director of national intelligence Wednesday afternoon, in one of their last actions before a long St. Patrick’s Day weekend.

Trump Will Need Democratic Cooperation to Replace US Attorneys
Judiciary Committee process, plus scarce floor time, could leave career lawyers in charge

Under normal circumstances, senators might act quickly to advance and confirm a president’s nominees to be U.S. attorneys across the country.

But with President Donald Trump in office, nothing is proving to be ordinary.

Mike Lee Doubts House GOP Health Plan Complies With Senate Rules
Utah senator cites abortion, insurance premium language

Sen. Mike Lee is suggesting that a ban on federal funding for abortion in the House health care bill might not survive a procedural challenge on the Senate floor.

In an opinion piece for The Heritage Foundation’s Daily Signal, the Utah Republican wrote that under Senate rules, the House health care bill might not be compliant as a reconciliation bill (a budget measure that only requires a majority vote). He said provisions will need to be stripped to comply with the so-called Byrd Rule.

Democrats Warn of Showdown Over Trump’s Border Wall
Senate Democratic leaders say there’s no plan for construction or getting Mexico to pay for it

Senate Democrats are warning Republicans of a shutdown showdown if President Donald Trump insists on including funding for a wall along the Mexican border in April’s government funding bill.

“We believe it would be inappropriate to insist on the inclusion of such funding in a must-pass appropriations bill that is needed for the Republican majority in control of the Congress to avert a government shutdown so early in President Trump’s Administration,” the Senate Democratic leadership team, along with Appropriations ranking Democrat Patrick J. Leahy of Vermont, wrote in a letter to be circulated Monday.

Senators Cranky About Appropriations Process
Little appetite for another continuing resolution

“I will never vote for a CR again.”

That was all the normally talkative Sen. Lindsey Graham cared to say when asked about the prospect of completing his State-Foreign Operations appropriations bill this year, or, as has become custom, funding that part of the government through another continuing resolution. The South Carolina Republican wants to create a new account to help countries in Eastern Europe battle Russian propaganda, something that wouldn’t happen if spending is just put on auto-pilot through a CR. 

Senators Have Serious Issues With House GOP Health Care Bill
Portman, Capito among those voicing concerns over Medicaid provisions

Republican senators are increasingly talking about the prospect of needing to amend the House’s health care law replacement bill.

Senate Republican Conference Chairman John Thune said it was entirely possible the Senate would amend the GOP health care bill through the budget reconciliation process on the floor.

Conservatives Ask: Is House Health Plan Unconstitutional?
Rand Paul cites Supreme Court opinion on Obamacare

Conservative critics of the House health care proposal are questioning whether it passes constitutional muster, but some scholars are skeptical.

Sen. Rand Paul is advancing the argument by citing the reasoning of Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr., who wrote the 2012 opinion in NFIB v. Sebelius for the Supreme Court when it upheld the individual mandate penalties in the 2010 health care overhaul law. The current House GOP proposal would partially repeal and replace that law.

Senators Ask White House: Where Are the Nominees?
Vice President assures GOP lawmakers names are coming

Republican senators are eager to continue pushing through President Donald Trump’s executive branch nominees, but they are increasingly concerned about the slow pace of nominations being sent to the Capitol for the people who will be tasked with much of the nitty-gritty work of government. 

“I continue to ask for additional names to come forward, and I’m assured that they will be soon,” Republican Policy Committee Chairman John Barrasso said Tuesday.

McCain Says Trump Owes Public an Explanation
Senator says wiretap allegation is too serious not to present evidence

Senate Armed Services Chairman John McCain said Monday that President Donald Trump needs to show evidence he was wiretapped at the behest of former President Barack Obama.

“The president said it, and based on something. What was the basis of his conclusion that his predecessor had broken the law by wiretapping Trump Tower?” McCain said. “The American people need to know.”

A Brief History of Calls for an Independent Prosecutor
Republicans have previously embraced calls for special counsel

Calls from Congress for a special prosecutor to investigate alleged foreign meddling in U.S. elections aren’t all that new.

Back when the old independent counsel law was still in effect, Republican senators called for just such an appointment to probe alleged efforts by the Chinese to influence President Bill Clinton’s 1996 re-election campaign, and House Republicans, as recently as last year, pushed legislation to make it easier for Congress to empower independent prosecutors.

Democrats Ask Secret Service About Background Checks at Mar-a-Lago
Also want president to release White House visitor logs

Several Senate Democrats want to know if the Secret Service is running background checks on visitors to President Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort.

The eight Democrats led by Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island are asking Secret Service Deputy Director William J. Callahan about the procedures in place at Trump properties when the president is there and apparently conducting business.