TOP ISSUES FROM THIS WEEK:
Still No Fix for the Highway Trust Fund
As lawmakers leave for the 4th of July recess, the clock continues to tick on the Highway Trust Fund. The Department of Transportation estimates the Fund will go broke on September 30th of this year. The impending insolvency of the Highway Trust Fund is not new – yet lawmakers on Capitol Hill still can’t seem to find a fix.
This week, Senate Democrats floated a $9 billion dollar patch to keep the Trust Fund solvent through the end of the year that would be paid for in part by raising taxes on commercial trucks. House Republicans quickly rejected that proposal.
House Republican leaders had their own plan last month—that involved ending Saturday postal delivery to fund a short term patch. But Senate Democrats and outside conservative groups ridiculed that idea. In fact, many of the Republicans’ own rank-and-file members did not like it much either.
Some on the Hill are sounding the alarm, “Today, we are facing a mayday situation, and I am here to send an SOS call to Congress and the American people,” said Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA), chair of the Environment and Public Works Committee. “We are on the verge of a transportation government shutdown.”
But others, like House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) seem less urgent. “I know the House Ways and Means Committee is working on a package, and I expect that after the district work period, over the Fourth of July, we’ll see some activity there,” said Boehner. Will that be something that both chambers can agree on, then? “We’ll let the Ways and Means Committee do their work,” Boehner replied.
Many conservatives say it is time for Congress to consider “evolving” the federal government out of some transportation decisions and giving more authority to the states. They point to legislation such as bills introduced by Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT) and Rep. Tom Graves (R-GA) that would phase out the federal gasoline gas and turn over most of the federal transportation program to the states.
Thad Cochran’s Stunning Comeback Win
Senator Thad Cochran (R-MS) won a stunning comeback victory in his runoff against Tea Party backed State Senator Chris McDaniel (R-MS) on Tuesday night. Many pundits had written off the six-term lawmaker after he finished behind McDaniel in the June 3rd primary.
Because neither Cochran nor McDaniel reached 50% on June 3rd it forced a runoff. A runoff that Cochran surprisingly won by more than 6,000 votes.
He now moves on to face former Democratic Congressman Travis Childers in the general election, a race Cochran enters as the prohibitive favorite in red-state Mississippi.
Cochran’s victory caps what has been the most heated showdown of the 2014 primary season, a months-long battle that pitted conservative challenger Chris McDaniel and his allies—including groups like the Club for Growth and the Senate Conservative Fund—against Cochran, an institution in Mississippi politics who had the backing of just about every influential Republican leader in the state and in Washington. The race has included allegations of criminal wrongdoing, open questions about Cochran’s state of mind, and personal insults directed both ways. Establishment Republicans spent millions of dollars trying to prevent a victory by McDaniel, whose history of controversial comments would not only jeopardize their hold over Mississippi’s Senate seat but also damage their candidates elsewhere.
It was widely believed that a runoff heavily favored the insurgent McDaniel – and indeed some polls showed McDaniel with a 12 point lead over Cochran.
But in a brilliant strategic ploy, Cochran and his allies—including former Congressman Steve LaTourette’s Main Street Advocacy—focused their efforts on turning out black voters instead of winning over activists. Those voters, swayed by Cochran’s pledges to continue delivering federal money to the mostly poor, rural state appear to have changed the composition of the electorate enough to give Cochran the win, according to an assessment of the early vote tallies.
Before the primary, most Mississippi political experts predicted turnout would reach a high of about 250,000. On Tuesday, in a runoff race that usually features a drop in turn out from the primary, more than 360,000 people voted—a remarkably high turnout figure that topped even the number of people who voted in the 2012 GOP presidential primary there.
In the bigger picture, Cochran’s victory is also a major coup for Senate Republicans. McDaniel was last of the candidates they feared could win the party’s nomination who could emerge as a Todd Akin-like figure—someone who could give Democrats a chance even in Deep South Mississippi. Worse, they feared anything controversial he said would go national in the same way Akin’s comment about rape did in 2012, damaging the party’s chances of retaking the Senate.
Republicans have now received the candidate they wanted—or at least avoided the ones they didn’t want—in a host of battlegrounds with competitive primaries: Georgia, Iowa, North Carolina, Colorado, New Hampshire and, now, Mississippi. There are still a handful of primaries left—most notably, a three-way Republican battle in Alaska—but Republicans are confident they pose little threat to their preferred candidates.
Boehner Intends to Sue President Obama
On Wednesday, House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) told reporters he intends to file a lawsuit against President Obama and his administration over the White House’s use of executive actions.
“The Constitution makes it clear that it’s the president’s job to faithfully execute the laws, and, in my view, the president hasn’t faithfully executed the laws,” Boehner said.
A number of House Republicans have been calling for such a move over what they deem are impeachable offenses. When asked whether this lawsuit could lead to impeachment proceedings, Boehner said, “This is not about impeachment.”
Boehner circulated a memo to House colleagues on Wednesday explaining his reasoning. “On one matter after another during his presidency, President Obama has circumvented the Congress through executive action, creating his own laws and excusing himself from executing statutes he is sworn to enforce – at times even boasting about his willingness to do it, as if daring the America people to stop him,” he wrote.
In the letter, the speaker wrote that the Obama administration’s executive actions could create a precedent that would shift “the balance of power decisively and dangerously in favor of the presidency, giving the president king-like authority at the expense of the American people and their elected legislators.”
For months, Republicans have been critical of the president’s executive actions on everything from tweaking the Affordable Care Act implementation to immigration, such as Deferred Action of Childhood Arrivals.
This year, the president promised to devote more attention to actions the executive branch can take without Congress.
Boehner plans on bringing legislation to the floor in July that would authorize the House, via the House General Counsel and the Bipartisan Legal Advisory Group (BLAG), to file a suit “in an effort to compel the president to follow his oath of office and faithfully execute the laws of our country.” BLAG rules by majority vote and is comprised of the speaker, the House majority and minority leaders, and the majority and minority whips (meaning, three Republicans and two Democrats). That’s the same group the Republican leadership used to (unsuccessfully) defend the Defense of Marriage Act, for a price tag of $2.3 million.
SCOTUS Limits Recess Appointment Power
In a unanimous decision, the Supreme Court on Thursday limited the president’s power to make recess appointments for vacancies in the executive branch. The case, National Labor Relations Board v. Noel Canning et al., specifically related to three recess appointments Obama made in 2012 to the NLRB while the Senate was in pro forma sessions, convening every three days. As the Court has it, for the Senate to truly be in recess, it would have to be out for at least 10 days.
The majority opinion in the case was written by Justice Stephen Breyer, which was joined by Justices Anthony Kennedy, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Sotomayor, and Kagan. A concurring opinion written by Antonin Scalia was joined by Chief Justice Roberts and Justices Thomas and Alito.
The Court’s summary states, “The Recess Appointments Clause empowers the President to fill existing vacancy during any recess—intra-session or inter-session—of sufficient length.” But the question here is whether the Senate was actually in recess. “A Senate recess that is so short that it does not require the consent of the House under that Clause is not long enough to trigger the President’s recess-appointment power.”
As the Court holds, the pro forma sessions like the one Obama used to appoint the NLRB members are full sessions, as long as that’s what the Senate says. Or, as the Court puts it, “the Senate is in session when it says that it is.”
Export-Import Bank Reauthorization in Trouble
Despite support from powerful business interests, the Obama administration, as well as a bipartisan group of Republicans and Democrats, the Export-Import Bank’s reauthorization is in trouble.
Newly minted House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) said this week that he would not support reauthorization of the bank if the vote were held this fall. McCarthy voted to reauthorize the bank three years ago.
The Export-Import Bank’s authorization expires this fall and the bank has drawn the attention and opposition of conservative groups in DC like Heritage and the Club for Growth.
Since the 1930’s, the Export-Import Bank has offered financial support for foreign buyers of American products and services exported to the international market. It’s reauthorization, now contentious, was once routine.
Massachusetts 6th Congressional District: Richard Tisei (R-MA) leads incumbent Rep. John Tierney (D-MA), 45% to 40%, according to an automated poll conducted by the student-run Emerson College Polling Society.
New York 13th Congressional District: Long-time Rep. Charlie Rangel (D-NY) held off primary challenger Adriano Espaillat 47% to 44% in the contentious Tuesday primary. Rangel has said this will be his last term in Congress.
New York 21st Congressional District: Former Bush administration official Elise Stefanik (R-NY) defeated 2012 nominee Matt Doheny (R-NY) 61% to 39% on Tuesday.
New York 22nd Congressional District: Incumbent Rep. Richard Hanna (R-NY) defeated Tea Party supported challenger Claudia Tenney (R-NY) 53% to 47% in Tuesday’s primary.
Kansas: Senator Pat Roberts (R-KS) holds a two-to-one lead over primary challenger Milton Wolf (R-KS), 56% to 23%, according to a new SurveyUSA poll conducted for KSN-TV in Wichita.
Kentucky: Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes (D-KY) leads Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell narrowly, 48% to 46% according to a new PPP poll.
Mississippi: Senator Thad Cochran (R-MS) defeated State Senator Chris McDaniel (R-MS) by more than 6,000 votes in the Mississippi Senate runoff.
Oklahoma: In a stinging rebuke to national Tea Party groups, Oklahoma Republicans chose Rep. James Lankford (R-OK) over T.W. Shannon (R-OK) in the Tuesday primary to replace Senator Tom Coburn (R-OK). National Tea Party groups and Tea Party luminaries like former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin (R-AK) backed Shannon who lost by a margin of 57% to 34%.
Colorado: Republicans dodged a bullet on Tuesday when former Congressman Bob Beauprez (R-CO) won the GOP nomination for Governor over controversial former Rep. Tom Tancredo (R-CO).
Kansas: The Democratic ticket led by Paul Davis (D-KS) outpaced the Republican ticket led by Gov. Sam Brownback (R-KS), 47% to 41%, according to a new SurveyUSA/KSN-TV poll.
Maryland: Lt. Governor Anthony Brown (D-MD) easily secured the Democratic nomination for Governor on Tuesday winning 51% of the vote against Attorney General Doug Gansler (D-MD) 24% and Delegate Heather Mizeur (D-MD) 22%.
A LOOK AHEAD
The House and Senate are in Recess