Niels Lesniewski

Government Reorg Plan Greeted Without Fanfare
Key members of Congress seemed unaware of details as White House plan was released

The Trump administration’s proposal to reorganize the federal government won’t likely be moving to the top of the Senate agenda anytime soon.

“This effort, along with the recent executive orders on federal unions, are the biggest pieces so far of our plan to drain the swamp,” Office of Management and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney said of the proposals. “I am eager to work with my colleagues across the executive branch and in Congress to deliver a more trusted and efficient government that puts the American taxpayer first.”

Senators Keeping Hope — and ‘Regular Order’ — Alive
That immigration debate hasn’t derailed spending may be cause for optimism

Does the Senate’s sudden appetite for “regular order” have any chance of continuing through the summer, particularly when it comes to writing spending bills?

“One only hopes,” Sen. Lindsey Graham said. “Appropriators seem to be able to get along better than other people.”

With Immigration Controversy as Backdrop, GOP Senate Candidates Blast Democrats
Candidates in Missouri, West Virginia and Pennsylvania criticize Democratic bill to address separation policy

While senators in both parties said Tuesday they want to solve the crisis of parents and children being separated before immigration cases are adjudicated, some Republican Senate candidates are focusing on criticizing Democratic incumbents who have signed on to a legislative fix.

At least three Senate nominees have come out on the attack against a proposal led by Judiciary ranking Democrat Dianne Feinstein of California that would bar parents and children from being separated by the Homeland Security Department except in unusual cases, such as when the parent does not have custodial rights.

Democratic Senators Ask If CFPB Nominee Worked on Immigration Policy Separating Children and Parents
Kathy Kraninger’s role at OMB involves oversight of DHS and Justice

Did President Donald Trump’s nominee to lead the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau approve the administration’s “zero-tolerance” immigration policy that has led to a wave of families being separated near the Southern border?

That is the question posed by Democratic Sens. Sherrod Brown of Ohio and Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts to Kathy Kraninger, the program associate director at the Office of Management and Budget whose job includes policy implementation oversight for both the Justice Department and Homeland Security Department, according to the senators.

Senate Democrats Oppose Federal Retirement Cutbacks
Mark Warner leads a total of 26 senators in rebuke

More than half of the Senate Democratic caucus wants the Trump administration to abandon proposals that could curb retirement benefits for federal employees.

“As you continue to develop legislative proposals related to the compensation of federal employees, we urge you to move past draconian cuts that harm the financial security of federal employees in every state across the country, and instead commit to comprehensive reforms that modernize our government’s compensation system in a way that encourages the best and brightest talent to join the ranks of our dedicated civil servants,” the senators, led by Virginia Democrat Mark Warner, wrote in a letter dated Wednesday.

Inhofe, Frustrated by Defense Bill Amendments, May Favor Rules Changes
Comes amid standoff over the amendments on the fiscal 2019 defense authorization bill

The Oklahoma Republican who has been filling in as chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee is talking about changing the rules ahead of next year’s edition of the annual exercise.

Sen. James M. Inhofe, the bill manager, is blasting the application of the Senate’s procedures allowing any one senator to effectively block the consideration of any other amendments.

Hatch Seeks Quick House Action to Improve Suicide Prevention Hotline
Legislation passed Senate last November

After recent high-profile suicides, Sen. Orrin G. Hatch is pushing for the House to expedite work on a bipartisan bill to improve the national suicide prevention hotline.

“Our bill requires the FCC to recommend an easy-to-remember, three-digit number for the national suicide prevention hotline. I believe that by making the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline system more user-friendly and accessible, we can save thousands of lives by helping people find the help they need when they need it most,” the Utah Republican said in a floor speech. “The Senate passed our bill with overwhelming bipartisan support in November. Now it’s time for the House to do its part.”

Democrats Expect Pre-Existing Conditions Defense Will Resonate in 2018
Schumer highlighting DOJ decision not to defend pillars of 2010 health care law

Democrats have seized on the Justice Department’s announcement that it will not defend the 2010 health care law’s protections for people with pre-existing conditions, sensing an opening for the midterms.

House Democratic leaders have scheduled a Wednesday afternoon press conference to push against the determination announced by Attorney General Jeff Sessions, and that opposition looks to be a key pillar of the strategy of Senate Democrats and their supporters going into the fall.

Mitch McConnell, Now the Senate’s Longest-Serving GOP Leader
Kentucky senator surpasses Bob Dole at more than 11 years

When Majority LeaderMitch McConnell highlighted the accomplishments of Senate Republicans on his watch at a gathering of conservatives Friday, the Kentucky Republican was taking a bit of a victory lap ahead of becoming the longest-serving GOP leader in history.

“It’s a lot of fun when you have as much good news to report as we do,” McConnell said at the Faith and Freedom Coalition conference. “In my view, the last 16 months have been the single-best period for conservatives since I came to Washington ... back in 1985.”

Senators Could Use Defense Bill to Push Back on Russia
Bipartisan group files amendments seeking to counter Kremlin election interference

Senators could find themselves debating election security this week, including how to counter potential efforts by Russia to mess with this year’s midterms.

Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle want to use the fiscal 2019 defense authorization bill as a venue for amendments related to both protection and response.

Senator Makes Progress in Crusade Against In-Flight Phone Calls
Alexander touts language in transportation spending bill

Sen. Lamar Alexander is making progress in his campaign against cell phone calls on commercial airline flights.

The Tennessee Republican has been touting the inclusion of language in the Senate version of legislation to fund the Department of Transportation that would direct Transportation Secretary Elaine L. Chao to finalize a ban on voice calls during flights, as regulations and technology change regarding cell phone use.

Senators Push Defense Amendment to Restore ZTE Sanctions
Proposal would effectively block ZTE from American technology — again

A bipartisan contingent of senators wants to use the defense authorization to restore penalties against Chinese telecommunications firm ZTE that were eased Thursday morning.

Republican Sen. Tom Cotton of Arkansas joined Democratic Sens. Chris Van Hollen of Maryland and Charles E. Schumer of New York in filing the legislation as an amendment to the defense programs bill. Senators are expected to begin amendment debate on the broader legislation early next week.

Corker Unveils Plan to Give Congress Power to Stop Trump Trade Actions
Bipartisan bill was filed despite opposition from the White House

Sen. Bob Corker followed through Wednesday on unveiling legislation to increase congressional oversight of tariffs applied in the context of national security.

Section 232 of the Trade Expansion Act of 1962 grants the executive branch authority to impose tariffs to protect vital interests, but Corker and others argue that President Donald Trump is misapplying the law — using it against allies instead of adversaries.

Former USA Gymnastics Chief Invokes Fifth Amendment to Avoid Senate Testimony
Comes as senators question tax-exempt status of Olympic sports organizations

The former president of USA Gymnastics faced questions from senators Tuesday about his role in the sex abuse scandal that plagued his organization, but they were ones Steve Penny did not answer, repeatedly invoking constitutional protections against self-incrimination before being excused from the witness table by Sen. Jerry Moran.

The Kansas Republican is chairman of the consumer protection subcommittee of the Senate Commerce Committee that has been investigating the inability of Olympic and amateur sports organizations to protect young athletes from abuse.

With Eye on Policy, and Politics, McConnell Scraps August Recess
Senate expected to be away the first week in August before returning for the rest of the summer

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has announced that the Senate will be in session throughout much of August, citing the need to move legislation and nominees. While widely viewed as a gambit to keep Democrats in competitive 2018 races off the trail, the move could have unintended and unpredictable political consequences. 

“Due to the historic obstruction by Senate Democrats of the president’s nominees, and the goal of passing appropriations bills prior to the end of the fiscal year, the August recess has been canceled,” the Kentucky Republican said in a statement.“Senators should expect to remain in session in August to pass legislation, including appropriations bills, and to make additional progress on the president’s nominees.”

Koch Groups to Spend Millions Against Trump Trade Agenda
Multi-faceted campaign includes calls for withdrawals of tarriffs

The network of political organizations associated with the Koch brothers is planning to be even more aggressive in pushing the benefits of free trade, against President Donald Trump’s more protectionist views.

According to a statement of principles accompanying Monday’s announcement of a multimillion dollar campaign, the Koch organizations will be pushing Trump to lift the new steel and aluminum tariffs on U.S. allies, as well as the previous solar panel and washing machine tariffs. They also want Trump’s administration to reverse course on a list of new tariffs to be levied on Chinese imports. 

The Men Behind the Names of the 3 Senate Office Buildings
Undercover Capitol takes you inside the historic workplace — one video at a time

Senior Senate reporter Niels Lesniewski tells the story of how each of the three Senate office buildings came to be named in this week’s edition of Undercover Capitol.

Below is a transcript of the video: 

Blagojevich-Appointed Senator Wants Trump to Follow Through on Pardon
Ex-Illinois governor has served long enough, Roland Burris says

The former Illinois senator who was appointed by ex-Gov. Rod Blagojevich doesn’t often agree with President Donald Trump, but he thinks Trump should follow through on commuting his sentence.

“I think he for once would be doing the right thing if he were to act on it, but I don’t put any trust in what President Trump says until the action has taken place,” former Democratic Sen. Roland W. Burris said in a telephone interview from Chicago.

Flake Opposes State Nominee Who Attacked His Immigration Views
Ronald Mortensen’s writings have directly criticized several Republican senators

Sen. Jeff Flake announced that he would not be backing President Donald Trump’s nomination of Ronald Mortensen to be assistant secretary of State for population, refugees and migration.

Flake, an Arizona Republican and member of the Foreign Relations Committee, linked his opposition to a Politico report about some of Mortensen’s well-documented views about immigration.

McConnell’s Plan for a Packed Summer Senate Agenda
Majority leader says he is “not into playing games this summer”

Updated 3:18 p.m. | Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s aggressive summer legislative agenda features floor time for bundles of spending bills, as well as three major authorizations.

The Kentucky Republican said he would prioritize the fiscal 2019 defense authorization, a new farm bill and updated water resources development legislation.