Category Archives: Congress

Congress unpopular but unlikely to change much

congressHow can it be that Congress is so unpopular, with an approval rating of 16 percent, yet congressional incumbents are so overwhelmingly favored to win, even after “Cantored” became a verb last week? Looking at the new Gallup Poll, the Washington Post’s Fix blog observed: “The lowest approval rate prior to 2014 was in the Republican wave of 1994, when only 22 percent of Americans approved of the job that Congress was doing. And that year, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, ‘only’ 90 percent of Congress won re-election.” The Fix added: “People tend to re-elect their own members of Congress, regardless of how they feel about Congress on the whole.  (They pay very little attention to politics and vote for the name they know over the one they don’t.)”

 

 

Huelskamp’s loss of ag seat didn’t represent constituents

huelskampA seat on the House Agriculture Committee was a given for Kansas. But a year and a half after losing his spots on that panel and the House Budget Committee because of his combative relationship with House leadership, Rep. Tim Huelskamp, R-Fowler, shows no signs of remorse. “The loss of the two seats – that was punishment for being too conservative,” he told Fox News host Mike Huckabee over the weekend. In discussing last week’s primary loss of House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., Huelskamp said: “At the end of the day, you’ve got to represent your constituents.” But how did getting booted off the ag panel represent Kansas’ “Big First”? The Kansas City Star’s Dave Helling noted that Huelskamp’s own GOP primary challenger, Alan LaPolice, has made regaining the ag spot a top priority: It’s possible, Helling wrote, “that rural Kansas voters will wonder why their current congressman would rather appear on Fox News than, you know, work on farm policy.”

Tiahrt flip-flop on snooping?

eavesdrop4National Security Agency snooping may be one of the few points of identifiable disagreement between Rep. Mike Pompeo, R-Wichita, and his predecessor-turned-challenger. “Mr. Pompeo says NSA isn’t listening to our calls but Gen. Clapper admits they are,” former Rep. Todd Tiahrt tweeted last week, linking to a commentary about Director of National Intelligence James Clapper’s admission that analysts searched the content of Americans’ e-mails and phone calls without a warrant. But Tiahrt cast votes supporting President Bush’s warrantless wiretapping and the Patriot Act, which granted authorities sweeping new surveillance powers. And in a 2007 hearing, Tiahrt told then-DNI Mike McConnell: “I’m glad that we were able to update the law to move ourselves as a country into the electronic age…. I too am very hesitant to inject more lawyers and judicial process into the system, which appears to only slow things down and makes us in essence less safe.”

Pompeo-Tiahrt race a ‘referendum on earmarks’?

tiahrt2The Weekly Standard took note of the “curious challenge to a GOP incumbent” being posed by former Rep. Todd Tiahrt (in photo) to his successor, Rep. Mike Pompeo, R-Wichita. An article by Mark Hemingway headlined “A Referendum on Earmarks” explored Tiahrt’s efforts to blame Wichita’s economic woes on Pompeo, quoting Tiahrt campaign manager Robert Noland as saying, “Half our aviation companies have left in the past couple years” and “when Todd was in office he did a lot of work to try to keep jobs here.” Hemingway observed: “It’s certainly a novel approach in the tea party era for a GOP candidate to signal they intend to bring home the federal bacon.”

Cantor defeat means nothing will get done in House

cantorericThe stunning defeat of U.S. House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., in a GOP primary Tuesday re-energizes the tea party, which had been struggling. But it saps the energy out of legislative activity in the House, particularly on immigration. “Not only is immigration reform a no-go for Republicans in this election, but it may well be off the table – assuming Republicans control the House – for the next several years,” wrote Chris Cillizza of the Washington Post. He said that Republican lawmakers will “avoid doing anything – literally, anything – that could be used against them” in a primary and that “members will be afraid of their own shadows.”

Roberts’ record makes him safer than Cochran

yardsignIn the months leading up to last week’s tight GOP Senate primary in Mississippi, Sens. Thad Cochran, R-Miss., and Pat Roberts, R-Kan., were often mentioned together – longtime incumbents facing tea party challengers to their right. So why is the 76-year-old Cochran facing a June 24 runoff and seemingly in trouble while 78-year-old Roberts is looking strong for the August primary? “Cochran is an old-school pol who doesn’t often lead the charge against President Obama. He’s courtly, low-key. His opponent, state Sen. Chris McDaniel, is a firebrand who’s been compared to a Southern preacher. That in-your-face approach appeals to conservative voters,” wrote the Kansas City Star’s Steve Kraske. Meanwhile, Roberts has “been consistently tough on the president. And while he’s brought home his share of pork, he isn’t in Cochran’s league. Roberts votes so consistently conservative that his opponent, Milton Wolf, has struggled to make a case before the August primary,” Kraske wrote.

Moran made emotional VA plea shortly before dad’s death

morannewCondolences to Sen. Jerry Moran, R-Kan., whose father, 98-year-old Ray Moran of Plainville, died Friday. A day earlier the senator had mentioned his father – who had served as an Army staff sergeant in North Africa and Italy in World War II and later worked for Skelly Oil Co. for 32 years – during an emotional plea on the Senate floor for a bipartisan solution to the problems at the Department of Veterans Affairs. “We are called upon as American citizens, certainly as members of the United States Senate, to do all the things that we can do to demonstrate that we thank our veterans for their service, we respect them, and we love them. The Senate needs to rise to the occasion and not let the partisan politics of this place and this country divide us in a way in which we only symbolically respond but the end result is that we failed those who served and we failed our veterans who depend upon us just as we’ve depended upon them for their service to our country,” Moran concluded. The funeral and burial service for Ray Moran will be held Tuesday in Plainville.

Will campaign donors switch back to Tiahrt from Pompeo?

money-bag“Want to see a nasty GOP House primary? Oh, it’s just getting started in Kansas,” observed the Washington Post in reporting the news of former Rep. Todd Tiahrt’s decision to challenge his successor, Rep. Mike Pompeo, R-Wichita. Among the fascinating questions about this two-month sprint will be whether Tiahrt comes up with the cash to rival Pompeo’s $2.1 million (as of March 31), and whether donors who shifted from Tiahrt to Pompeo will shift back or just back both. For example, OpenSecrets.org lists Koch Industries as the top contributor to both, crediting individuals and PACs connected to the Wichita-based company with more than $328,000 in donations to Tiahrt (1993-2010) and more than $239,000 to Pompeo (since 2010). Textron, which owns Cessna and now also Beechcraft, is third on both men’s lists. One big change for Tiahrt: His second-biggest source of contributions over his congressional career, Boeing, has nearly finished closing its Wichita site.

Tiahrt not sleeping well because of Pompeo?

tiahrtbackThe 4th Congressional District race suddenly became a lot more competitive now that former Rep. Todd Tiahrt is challenging incumbent Rep. Mike Pompeo, R-Wichita. It’s still unclear what Tiahrt’s case is against Pompeo. They both are very conservative and share the same views on most issues, including abortion. About the only policy difference Tiahrt has pointed to is Pompeo’s defense of the National Security Agency’s surveillance programs. Pompeo has a huge fundraising lead, but Tiahrt still has a lot of grassroots volunteers and is an aggressive campaigner. Tiahrt will also have to explain why he enthusiastically endorsed Pompeo in 2010 and 2012 but now thinks he should be voted out of office. When Tiahrt endorsed Pompeo in October 2010, he said three times that he’d “sleep well at night” if Pompeo replaced him.

GOP takeover of Senate could force it to govern

gridlockThough Congress’ approval rating has been at historic lows, most people like having divided control of Congress, which contributes to the current stagnation. Columnist John Dickerson argues that if voters really want change, they should try giving the GOP control of the Senate. Though that’s likely to result in all Obama hearings all the time, the GOP might also be forced to govern. “Republican strategists know the GOP has to shake the ‘party of no’ label, which means producing actual accomplishments,” Dickerson wrote.

Delegation united against study of climate change

CORRECTION Arctic MeltAll four U.S. representatives from Kansas voted last week to block the Defense Department from spending any money to study the effects of climate change and its impact on national security, the Lawrence Journal-World reported. The amendment to the annual National Defense Authorization Act also bars the Pentagon from implementing the United Nations’ Agenda 21 sustainable development plan, the subject of a one-world conspiracy theory pushed by some conservatives. Tom Brandt, spokesman for Rep. Lynn Jenkins, R-Topeka, said that Jenkins does not doubt the link between man-made carbon emissions and global climate change, calling the link “pretty undeniable.” He said the issue is who sets policy, Congress or the executive branch. The Defense Department has participated in the National Climate Assessment program since 1989, during the George H.W. Bush administration.

GOP establishment, tea party learned from elections

teasign“The differences between the tea party and ‘establishment Republicans’ have largely concerned style and attitude rather than program and ideology, and these are easily finessed – especially because moods change,” columnist Ramesh Ponnuru wrote. “That’s why tea party candidates have so far beaten only two incumbent Republican senators in primaries in the past three election cycles. Those elections unified the party in two ways. Establishment Republicans learned that they needed to sound more tea partyish. And the tea party learned something about electability: In both cases (Joe Miller over Lisa Murkowski in Alaska, Richard Mourdock over Richard Lugar in Indiana), its candidate went on to lose the general election.”

Congress hates to cut military spending

militarymoneyMembers of Congress come and go, but one thing never seems to change: Lawmakers hate to cut spending on military programs, weapons and equipment, no matter how outdated or ineffective. That’s particularly true if the spending is connected to their home districts. The House, including many tea party members and all four Kansas delegation members, defied the wishes of the Pentagon – and circumvented its own budget caps – by voting to maintain funding for the Cold War-era U-2 spy plane and the A-10 Warthog plane, to keep open several military bases, and to keep 11 Navy cruisers and an aircraft carrier in service. “Congress simply undid all of the department’s cost-saving measures and slashed readiness accounts without offering alternatives,” said Rep. Adam Smith, D-Wash., ranking minority member on the House Armed Services Committee.

Does Huelskamp doubt bigotry of segregation?

huelskamp,timGov. Sam Brownback and Rep. Lynn Jenkins, R-Topeka, shared a stage with first lady Michelle Obama at the event with high school graduates observing the 60th anniversary of the Brown v. Topeka Board of Education decision ending school desegregation. Former Gov. Kathleen Sebelius was on hand as well. Later, Rep. Tim Huelskamp, R-Fowler, had this to say on the subject via social media: “@MichelleObama the real bigotry in America is towards people of faith. Ask your co-speaker Kathleen Sebelius about that.” The “real bigotry”? At least Huelskamp joined the rest of the Kansas House delegation and many other members of Congress in signing Jenkins’ letter to the superintendent of the Brown v. Board of Education National Historic Site commemorating the anniversary and expressing the hope that the site “will continue to provide the opportunity for future generations to visit and take part in the search for justice and equality for all Americans.”

Dark money flooding this year’s campaigns

cashAt the current rate, unregulated and undisclosed “dark-money” spending on this year’s congressional elections could top $1 billion. “This is really a perfect storm of political spending,” Michael Toner, former head of the Federal Election Commission, told the Financial Times. The most prominent spenders are Americans for Prosperity and Freedom Partners, which are both linked to the Koch brothers. In 2012, the Koch network was responsible for about 1 in 4 of the total dark-money dollars spent, according to the campaign-finance watchdog group Open Secrets.

USA Today: Roberts spent 97 days in Kansas in two years

robertsleftIn the latest development in the story that won’t go away for Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kan., USA Today reported Saturday that he “spent official funds to travel to Kansas 26 times over the course of two years, spending a total of 97 days in the state between July 2011 and August 2013, according to Senate spending records.” It’s possible that he may have used personal or campaign funds to spend more time in the state (Roberts’ offices wouldn’t respond to USA Today’s requests for comment). But compare Roberts with Sen. Jerry Moran, R-Kan., who “spent official funds to log roughly 475 days in Kansas” during the same period, USA Today reported. Time spent in the state a senator represents is a legitimate re-election issue, but it’s hard to see many Kansas Republicans being so disgruntled over it as to choose tea party challenger Milton Wolf over the three-term senior senator.

Pompeo needs to keep Benghazi probe from being partisan circus

pompeo,mikeThe appointment of Rep. Mike Pompeo, R-Wichita, to the special panel investigating Benghazi reflects how much GOP leadership respects him. As a Thursday editorial argued, he needs to do his best to ensure the probe is substantive and productive and not a partisan circus, as some earlier committee hearings have been. He should avoid partisan grandstanding and instead pursue the nonpartisan goals of justice for the killers and safer U.S. diplomatic facilities around the world.

Dole hasn’t given up on U.N. disability treaty

dolemugCharacteristically, former Kansas Sen. Bob Dole didn’t give up after the U.S. Senate’s failure to ratify the United Nations treaty on disability rights in December 2012, when Dole visited the Senate floor in a wheelchair yet even fellow Kansans Pat Roberts and Jerry Moran voted “no.” When visiting Salina Tuesday, Dole told Kansas Public Radio that he and the White House are “working on some additional language” to allay some Republicans’ fears that the treaty could be a threat to the rights of homeschooling families. “When we get it all complete I’ll take it to Pat Roberts and Jerry Moran and try to get their support,” he said, suggesting it is two votes short of the necessary 67 and that another Senate vote could come July 21. That would be the day before Dole’s 91st birthday.

Now Hillary Clinton is to blame for kidnapped girls?

Pakistan USNot only are Republicans trying desperately to blame the Benghazi attack on former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, but some conservative commentators and lawmakers are now trying to blame her for the kidnapping of the Nigerian schoolgirls (which happened 14 months after she left office). Seriously. The only connection they can point to is that the State Department didn’t put Boko Haram on its list of foreign terrorist organizations until 2013. But that’s been enough fuel for what Dana Milbank of the Washington Post described as “a textbook example of the anatomy of a smear.”

Reid wrong on Koch Industries’ role in climate change

kochindustriesSenate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., continued his rhetorical assault on the Koch brothers last week, later earning three Pinocchios from the Washington Post’s Fact Checker feature for claiming they “are one of the main causes” of climate change. Referring to a study by the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, Reid said Koch Industries ranked “as one of the nation’s biggest air and water polluters, period. In one year Koch Industries released 31 million pounds of toxic air. How much is that? It’s more than Dow Chemical, Exxon Mobil and General Electric combined emitted.” Not so, the Fact Checker found, noting the study puts Koch Industries 27th among polluters, that Dow and Exxon Mobil “actually had more than double the emissions of Koch Industries” and that Koch doesn’t even appear on global lists of the top carbon-emitting companies. The Fact Checker concluded: “We understand Reid’s overall point, but it’s important to stick to the facts when making such claims.” Meanwhile, Politico reported last week that the Koch brothers-backed Americans for Prosperity “intends to spend more than $125 million this year on an aggressive ground, air and data operation benefiting conservatives.” No wonder Reid is rattled.

Roberts shouldn’t overstate his status as a Kansas resident

robertsleftNational political observers have taken this week’s defeats for tea party challengers in North Carolina and Ohio as more good news for senators such as Pat Roberts, who faces a similar GOP insurgent in the August primary. Leawood radiologist Milton Wolf’s latest fight to oust Roberts from the ballot over his residency seems particularly desperate, considering the senator’s high profile at events around the state and enduring support in Kansas. Still, Roberts shouldn’t overstate his status as a Kansas resident, given the recent confirmation that he owns a home in Virginia, his voter registration is at a Dodge City donor’s house and that he rents out the Dodge City duplex he owns. It’s one thing to expect Kansans to accept that, as he recently said, “I’m a fourth-generation Kansan. Your home is where your heart is, and my heart is in Kansas.” It’s another thing to claim, as he also said, “I live in Dodge City.”

Moran is among the 10 most truant senators

morannewWhen National Journal checked the attendance records of current U.S. senators, it found they had missed an average 2.5 percent of roll call votes over their tenure. The bottom 10 included Sen. Jerry Moran (in photo), R-Kan., whose 6.5 percent made him less truant than only Sens. Marco Rubio (7.1 percent), R-Fla., and John McCain (10.5 percent), R-Ariz. (excluding the serious illness-related absences of Sens. Tim Johnson, D-S.D., and Mark Kirk, R-Ill). According to GovTrack.us, Moran missed 59 of 910 roll call votes from January 2011 through this month, including 20 this year. Moran told The Eagle editorial board Thursday that he has missed some votes because he tries to get back to Kansas every weekend to meet with constituents and to “be a good son to an aging parent.” He said he takes his job responsibilities very seriously and has held town hall meetings in all 105 counties in Kansas since becoming a senator. Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kan., has missed 2.4 percent of roll call votes over his three terms. The impressive records of the Kansans in the House, where the median of missed votes is 2.4 percent: Rep. Kevin Yoder, R-Overland Park, 0.5 percent; Rep. Mike Pompeo, R-Wichita, and Rep. Tim Huelskamp, R-Fowler, both 0.6 percent; and Rep. Lynn Jenkins, R-Topeka, 0.9 percent.

Vote on Moritz gives Brownback a court seat to fill

moritzThree long years after the seat opened, a Kansan has been confirmed by the U.S. Senate to the Denver-based 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals – Kansas Supreme Court Justice Nancy Moritz, with a vote of 90-3 on Monday. To their credit, Kansas Sens. Pat Roberts and Jerry Moran supported President Obama’s nomination of Moritz, with Moran calling her “well-prepared” and saying: “I am confident Nancy’s service on the 10th Circuit will be guided by the values we hold in Kansas, including empathy for others and respect for the rule of law.” Roberts and Moran inexplicably blocked Obama’s 2011 nomination to the seat of former Kansas Attorney General Steve Six, who also was well-qualified. But Moritz will be a great addition to the court; a Beloit native and Washburn University Law School graduate, she had experience as a federal prosecutor and coordinator of appellate cases for the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Kansas before Gov. Kathleen Sebelius appointed her to the Kansas Court of Appeals in 2004 and Gov. Mark Parkinson named her to the Supreme Court in 2011. Of course, Moritz’s confirmation also has a key benefit for Kansas Republicans – providing Gov. Sam Brownback with his first opportunity to name a member of the state Supreme Court.

Washington-style politics and lobbying moved to Kansas

lobbyistThe FBI probe into the fundraising and lobbying activities of associates of Gov. Sam Brownback made the New York Times. An article this week said that the tactics used by current and former staff members “underline the degree to which Washington-style politics and lobbying have taken root in state capitals.” Or as former Kansas Senate President Steve Morris put it: “K Street has moved to Kansas.”

Huelskamp thinks Benghazi worth $5 million reward

huelskampRep. Tim Huelskamp, R-Fowler, second to none in Congress in opposing federal spending, found one expenditure to endorse last week: a $5 million reward to anyone who could provide information about the Benghazi attacks on Sept. 11, 2012. Huelskamp is co-sponsoring legislation with Rep. Michael Burgess, R-Texas, to mandate the reward through the State Department’s Rewards for Justice Program. “By offering a substantial reward for information leading to the apprehension and prosecution of suspects in these attacks, this bill will help Americans learn the truth about Benghazi,” Huelskamp said in a statement.