Hawkings

Insider’s guide to Hill policy, people & politics

Tennessee, Texas Stand Out for Strengthened Hill Sway
In Roll Call’s Clout Index for this Congress, California delegation’s longtime hold on top spot is threatened

Party affiliation and longevity have helped propel members of the Tennessee delegation such as Sen. Bob Corker into positions that convey authority and power, Hawkings writes. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

No state in this decade has seen a more meaningful boost than Tennessee in institutionalized congressional influence.

Only eight states, all with much bigger delegations because they’re much more populous, have more overt sway at the Capitol this year. That is one of several notable findings from the new Roll Call Clout Index, which the newspaper uses to take a quantifiable measurement of every state’s potential for power at the start of each new Congress.  

Bob Michel, Last Leader of the ‘Old School’ House GOP, Dies at 93
Compromise and collegiality were hallmarks, but got him pushed aside by his caucus in the 1990s

Illinois Rep. Robert H. Michel, pictured at a news conference on Aug. 2, 1989, served as House Republican leader for nearly 14 years. (Laura Patterson/CQ Roll Call Archive Photo)

Robert H. Michel, who as the House minority leader from 1981 until his 1994 retirement became the longest-serving congressional Republican leader who never experienced majority power, died Friday. He was 93 and had lived on Capitol Hill much of the time since stepping down after 19 terms representing central Illinois.

Michel epitomized the congressional Old School in nearly every way, which worked to his advantage for almost all of his four decades in office. He prized collegiality, collaboration, civility and courtesy as essential political virtues. He evidenced a steady reverence for the institutional prerogatives, customs and limitations of what he fondly termed “the people’s House.”

For the GOP, a Dangerous Gamble on the All-Important Town Hall
Old-school constituent connections work best, but the anger is proving tough to withstand

Police escort California Rep. Tom McClintock through a town-hall audience in Roseville, California, last Saturday. (Randall Benton/The Sacramento Bee via AP)

Consider 10 and 19 as two more figures that help illustrate the risky congressional Republican strategies of passivity, defensiveness and avoidance during the first month of the Trump administration.

Ten is the total number of GOP lawmakers who have town hall meetings scheduled next week, the longest period Congress will be back home since the inauguration.  

Ep. 41: Town Hall Voter Anger May Force GOP to Stall Obamacare Repeal

As they head back into their states and districts next week, lawmakers could continue to face angry voters at town halls over repealing the Affordable Care Act, says CQ Roll Call’s political reporter Simone Pathé and health reporter Erin Mershon. This and fear of a backlash in the 2018 election, they explain, could further delay any action on the GOP’s six-year quest to repeal Obamacare.

Did McConnell Put Warren Right Where He Wants Her?
Senate GOP boss elevates left‘s hero, maybe because she‘s not strongest 2020 Democratic option

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell may be hoping that Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren becomes the Democratic Party’s presidential nominee in 2020. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Sure, he’s a really buttoned-down guy working to prevent the Senate from getting totally bottled-up, but there are solid reasons to suspect Mitch McConnell wants a “Nevertheless, she persisted” hoodie as much as anyone.

The majority leader is obviously much more Brooks Brothers than Raygun. Still, he may well realize that his latest grandmaster move in the never-ending game of electoral chess requires ditching the rep stripe tie in favor of some printed-on-demand slogan swag.

Don‘t Expect the Senate to Back Away From the Brink
Ending all filibusters seems inevitable, Gorsuch's confirmation the likely ‘nuclear’ spark

It may not be a question of if Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell will use the “nuclear option” to break a legislative deadlock, but when, Hawkings writes. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Nuclear winter is coming. 

Perhaps it won’t arrive during this Supreme Court showdown. But then the odds will approach metaphysical certainty with the next vacancy on the court, unless deadlock on a premier piece of legislation happens first.

Ep. 39: Not Even the Usually Lofty Senate Can Escape the Trump Tumult
The Big Story

The Senate is known for its courtesies and decorum, but it’s just two weeks into the Donald Trump administration and the chamber has become as chaotic as it’s been in a long time, says CQ Roll Call’s senior editor David Hawkings. The carping and parliamentary brinkmanship over Cabinet nominees could bode ill for the legislative agenda ahead, say CQ Roll Call’s leadership editor Jason Dick and senior reporter Niels Lesniewski.

Show Notes:

The Incredible Shrinking Split Tickets
Midterm campaign field starts with just 35 crossover House districts

Nevada Sen. Dean Heller is the only Republican up for re-election in 2018 in a state not carried by Donald Trump. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

For the latest evidence of the nation’s polarized politics, the granular returns from November offer these slivers of bright purple insight:

Voters in just 35 congressional districts, or 8 percent of the total, elected a House member from one party while preferring the presidential candidate of the other party — the second election in a row where the share of ticket-splitting seats was in the single digits. Before that, 1920 was the last time the number of such crossover districts fell below one out of every nine.

Capitol Hill: Trump’s Ultimate Truth Squad
Presidents don’t usually get to decree what facts and figures will shape legislation

President Donald Trump arrives at the Department of Homeland Security on Wednesday where he addressed employees. (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

If President Donald Trump’s emphatic disregard for the facts continues, it will soon threaten the viability of the legislative process and imperil the minimal credibility now afforded Congress. 

During his initial week in office, Trump has stood fast by three whoppers of substantial import — given that they now bear the imprimatur of the Oval Office, not the campaign trail or the board room or the set of a reality TV show. But so far, his spreading of falsehoods has not managed to muddy, or sully, the process of advancing the policy changes the country elected him to make.

A Day That’s Both Routinized and Indelibly the President’s Own
Trump’s populist tone, churlish crowd, combine with ageless Capitol pomp

From left, First lady Melania Trump, President Donald Trump, Major General Bradley Becker, Vice President Mike Pence and his wife Karen Pence review the troops following Donald Trump’s swearing-in as the 45th president of the United States on Friday. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

If inaugurations are like weddings — the central figures remain singular and the emotional sensibilities vary, but the liturgies are similar and the outcome is always the same — then the opening day of Donald Trump’s presidency absolutely kept the metaphor relevant.

On Friday, he became the only billionaire, the only brand personification and the only person without any prior experience as a public servant to take the oath of office. And then he excoriated the capital establishment arrayed around him using caustic language and campaign-rally cadences particularly discordant for an inaugural address.

A Ceremony of Stability for a Shake-It-Up President
Inaugurals are meant to unify the nation, a fundamental Trump challenge

Since his election, President-elect Donald Trump has not backed away from his headline-grabbing approach of responding to every perceived slight with a combative brickbat, Hawkings writes. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

No ritual embodies the stability of the American government more than an inauguration. And no one in modern times has arrived for the ceremony as a more purposeful destabilizer of governing norms than Donald John Trump, who becomes the 45th president of the United States on Friday.

The inaugural is this country’s ultimate civic rite, designed to assure the orderly transfer of enormous power, bolster patriotism and bind together a diverse people behind their new leader. The pageantry of the day, in so many ways fundamentally unchanged since the 18th century, almost cannot help but imbue each new holder of the office with similar auras of credibility and historic import.

House Republican Women See a Boost in Authority
3 committees, other powerful posts newly under control of 21-person caucus

Texas Rep. Kay Granger is the new chairwoman of the Defense Appropriations Subcommittee, which drives the allocation of more than half a trillion dollars annually to the military. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

For the past four years, Republicans endured pointed barbs about how the only woman with a House committee gavel was presiding over the fittingly sexist-sounding “housekeeping committee,” the Hill’s nickname for the panel overseeing the Capitol’s internal operations.

That’s not a fair jape anymore. Exactly a century after the arrival of the first female elected to Congress, Jeannette Rankin of Montana, her GOP successors will be wielding more titular power in the Republican-run House than ever. Women will soon be presiding over three standing committees, a record for the party, while a fourth has taken over what’s arguably the chamber’s single most consequential subcommittee, because it takes the lead in apportioning more than half of all discretionary federal spending.

For 20, a New Year’s Boost in House Legislative Sway
How the winners of top committee assignments made their own luck

Keep an eye peeled for these House members with plum new committee assignments, from left to right, first row: Pete Aguilar, Earl L. “Buddy” Carter, Katherine M. Clark, Ryan A. Costello, Carlos Curbelo; second row: Suzan DelBene, Debbie Dingell, Brian Higgins, John Moolenaar, Grace Meng; third row: Dan Newhouse, Scott Peters, Mark Pocan, Raul Ruiz, David Schweikert; fourth row: Terri A. Sewell, Scott Taylor, Tim Walberg, Jackie Walorski and Mimi Walters. (Bill Clark, Meredith Dake-O’Connor and Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photos. Scott Taylor courtesy Scott Taylor for U.S. Congress)

Specialization seasoned with seniority is the surest recipe for a meaningful legislative career in the House, which is more than big enough to swallow all the dilettantes and short-timers without a trace. It’s finding a substantive niche, then fitting in over the long haul, that proves perennially frustrating for many members. 

But the goal of becoming a successful and substantive lawmaker just got a whole lot easier for a score of them.

Parsing New Senate Committee Rosters for Future Career Moves
Senators with 2020 ambitions, or 2018 re-election worries, hope for help from new assignments

Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren and New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker have both landed plum committee assignments that could bolster their 2020 presidential prospects. (Bill Clark/Douglas Graham/CQ Roll Call file photos)

There’s little doubt about committees being a stronger force for shaping legislation in the House than in the Senate. That is why so many lobbyists and lawmakers had their ears pressed to the door Wednesday while the Republican Steering Committee started filling openings on the most influential House panels. 

But when it comes to shaping national political careers, it’s the Senate where such assignments often represent the biggest value. That is why everyone already pondering the next Democratic presidential campaign, and before that, the senatorial balance of power after the 2018 midterms, has been parsing the committee rosters finalized this week.

How to Watch the Quirky Congressional Opening Day
Look for unusual traditions, cacophony and a few moments of bipartisanship

Congressional opening day collegiality may devolve into partisan posturing almost as soon as the swearing-in Bibles are shelved. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

If the last fall’s orientation period for the newest lawmakers was the Capitol Hill equivalent of freshman days at college, then the formal convening of the 115th Congress on Tuesday is the first day of school.  

And so it may be useful, for the congressional community as well as the throngs of well-wishers in town just for the festivities, to be reminded of some of the curious ways in which the customs of the day are different from all the others.