Chad Pergram

Back when I was in high school, a couple of upperclassmen got in big trouble for going out late one night and trashing the freshman class homecoming float.

Homecoming was a big production at my rural high school. A few weeks before the big day, each class would usually scope out a barn somewhere and begin tricking out a hay trailer with every piece of crepe paper available in southwestern Ohio. This would be the genesis of a class float for the homecoming parade.

But in my junior year, vandals ruined the freshman homecoming float. People were mad. But it surprised nobody. After all, it was only the freshman homecoming float. Certainly, the freshmen weren’t going to defile the junior or senior homecoming float. They were lowly underclassmen. It was only natural that upperclassmen would tear up the freshman float. After all, they were just freshmen.

DEM LEADERS REJECT IMMEDIATE IMPEACHMENT PROCEEDINGS IN URGENT CONFERENCE CALL

You wouldn’t blame senior House Democrats for occasionally wanting to trash the House freshman homecoming float. After all, the left-wing messages of Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., Rashida Tlaib, D-Mich., and Ilhan Omar, D-Minn., seem to capture most of the attention in the press – much to the dismay of other voices in the House Democratic Caucus. But House Democrats know they can’t rip up the homecoming float of the freshmen.

That’s because the politics of many House Democrats are far more moderate than those of Ocasio-Cortez, Tlaib, Omar and others. Democrats don’t have control of the House because they won those dark-blue districts in New York, Michigan and Minnesota. Democrats are now in the majority because of freshmen most Americans have never heard of: Reps. Abby Finkenauer, D-Iowa, Ben McAdams, D-Utah, Haley Stevens, D-Mich., and Xochitl Torres Small, D-N.M., to name a few. These Democrats are more tempered in their views. They represent swing districts. They flipped their seats from red to blue in the last election cycle. And party elders know they have to keep these seats in Democratic hands or risk a return to the minority.

This is why Democrats can’t wreck the freshman float. The freshmen are too valuable, even if a particularly small minority of those freshmen are the ones who capture the headlines.

CONWAY: TRUMP CAN’T BE IMPEACHED BY AN INVESTIGATION DEMOCRATS STARTED

This reflects the current Democratic conundrum with the Mueller Report. Some liberal Democrats believe the report clears them to move to impeach President Trump. More moderate Democrats aren’t so sure.

The Mueller report not only revealed some of Trump’s deceitful behavior but exposed chasms between House Democrats over how to proceed in the post-special counsel world.

This is why House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., reiterated to her caucus in a letter Monday that House Democrats will “conduct oversight over the other branches of government.”

Not exactly a full-throated endorsement of impeachment. That’s why Pelosi immediately pivoted in her missive to call out the GOP.

CHRIS STIREWALT: IMPEACHMENT TALK PUTS DEMOCRATS IN UNCOMFORTABLE POSITION

“Congressional Republicans have an unlimited appetite for such low standards,” Pelosi wrote of Trump’s comportment as spelled out in the Mueller Report. “The GOP should be ashamed of what the Mueller Report has revealed, instead of giving the President their blessings.”

Pelosi must walk down both sides of the street, simultaneously jabbing the President and his Administration – to say nothing of Congressional Republicans – without doing anything to damage her freshman class and new majority.

In her letter, Pelosi wrote that Democrats were committed to finding the “truth.” That’s why House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerry Nadler, D-N.Y., authorized a subpoena for former White House Counsel Don McGahn to testify and provide documents about what he told Mueller. Nadler announced the subpoena moments before House Democrats jumped on the Monday conference call to discuss their options now that the Russia investigation is complete.

WHY THE MUELLER REPORT COULD TURN INTO A NEVER-ENDING STORY ON THE HILL

The release of the Mueller report in the middle of a two-week Congressional recess for Easter and Passover may have hindered the ability of Democrats control the narrative. Trump could thunder on Twitter there was “no collusion” and “no obstruction,” Game of Thrones style. It would have been easier for Democrats to counter Trump’s narrative had lawmakers been roaming the Capitol. But the timing of the report’s publication may have been a blessing in disguise for Democrats. The absence of Democrats in Washington muted internal schisms over what would come next.

So this is the likely path for Democrats: Lots of hearings. Attorney General William Barr is slated to appear at Senate and House sessions next week. Then a likely appearance by Mueller. Possible testimony by McGahn later in May. The trick for Democrats is to continue chipping away at the president, undercutting him going into 2020 – yet not to impeach. Such a strategy might not be everything liberal Democrats want. But it could mildly satisfy the appetite of the base as they attempt to pummel the President.

Moreover, such a scheme would protect many of the vulnerable House Democrats mentioned above – especially freshmen from battleground districts.

That said, there is a risk that the public could interpret repeated inquests into various aspects of the Mueller report as harassment. That could distract from the Democrats’ honed message of health care and infrastructure. But it’s not impeachment.

“If it is what we need to do to honor our responsibility to the Constitution – if that’s the place the facts take us, that’s the place we have to go,” said Pelosi on the conference call. “We don’t have to go to articles of impeachment to obtain the facts, the presentation of facts.”

No wonder Trump told reporters Monday he was “not even a little bit” worried about impeachment.

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So, Democrats will kinda-sorta-maybe-perhaps-talk-about-impeachment-but-not-rule-it-out any time soon. Republicans will rail against this ploy as though Democrats are aiming for the jugular. But rank-and-file Democrats, especially freshmen, will enjoy a few layers of protection. Pelosi needs all her new members on board with the gambit. Liberals and moderates. Those from safe districts. Those from liberal epicenters.

All new majorities in the House refer to their freshman as “majority makers.” So, this “tweener” ploy is just for them, regardless of their politics.

And that’s why the freshman homecoming float will remain intact for now.

Source: Fox News Politics

A D.C. federal appeals court ruled Friday that the House of Representatives does not have to allow a self-described atheist to deliver secular prayers.

The Good Friday ruling concerned efforts by Dan Barker, co-president of the Freedom from Religion Foundation, to pray in the House chamber as a guest chaplain — only to be turned down by Father Patrick Conroy, the House chaplain.

PENNSYLVANIA LAWMAKER DEFENDS CONTROVERSIAL PRAYER 

The court, however, sided with Conroy in determining the House was in its right to require prayers be religious in nature.

“We could not order Conroy to allow Barker to deliver a secular invocation because the House permissibly limits the opening prayer to religious prayer. Barker has therefore failed to state a claim for which relief can be granted,” the opinion stated.

Article I, Section 5 of the Constitution declares that both the House and Senate “may determine the rules of its proceedings.”

Barker had alleged that Conroy rejected him “because he is an atheist.” But the court determined that while that may be true, the House requirement that prayers be religious holds weight.

“In other words, even if, as Barker alleges, he was actually excluded simply for being an atheist, he is entitled to none of the relief he seeks,” the opinion said.

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The tradition of House and Senate prayers goes back to 1789.

The House and Senate both begin their legislative days with a religious invocation, frequently delivered by Conroy and his Senate counterpart Barry Black.

Fox News’ Bill Mears contributed to this report.

Source: Fox News Politics

The Mueller Report covered 448 pages.

For context, the 1998 Starr Report about President Clinton and Monica Lewinsky consumed 445 pages.

Other works of popular literature clocking in at around 400 pages or so?

Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen (409 pages). The Shining by Stephen King (447). Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier (449). Ready Player One by Ernest Cline (374). The Neverending Story by Michael Ende (396).

CLICK HERE TO READ THE REDACTED MUELLER REPORT

Perhaps the last title is most pertinent here.

Attorney General Bill Barr released the Mueller Report in the middle of the first major Congressional recess of the year. Both the House and Senate usually break for more than two weeks in March or April to observe Good Friday, Easter and Passover.

Barr long ago announced he’d make the Mueller Report public in mid-April. But that decision frustrated Congressional Democrats, who viewed the timing as nefarious since Congress was out of session and lawmakers were spread to the four winds.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., was in Europe, just concluding a speech to the Dail, or Irish parliament, in Dublin. Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., was in Rwanda. House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerry Nadler, D-N.Y., was in New York City.

“The logistics make the release much more difficult,” protested Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., a member of the Judiciary Committee. “The administration seems to be purposely creating obstacles and hurdles to prevent full disclosure.” Blumenthal added that Barr should have published the report ‘well before the recess. It should’ve been released the day before it was ready.”

Nadler argued that Barr’s decision to hold a press conference ahead of publicizing the report was villainous. Nadler portrayed this as an effort by the administration to seize control of the messaging in the absence of lawmakers prowling Capitol Hill. Nadler suggested Barr could then spin the conclusions on behalf of President Trump.

“The Attorney General is not letting facts speak for themselves, but baking in a narrative that benefits the White House and doing it before a holiday weekend so it would be hard for people to react,” said Nadler, who held a press conference in New York City late Wednesday to pre-empt Barr – then suggested the attorney general cancel his morning presser.

Releasing the report during the recess may mute some Congressional response. But satellite dishes and TV studios are available this time of year. Twitter remains operational. Most of the country doesn’t hang on every word out of Washington and know whether Congress is in or out of session. Many Americans wouldn’t interrupt their workday to cull through the Mueller Report, let alone actually read it. They’ll rely on others to divine meaning from the special counsel’s missive.

The timeframe didn’t matter to Lindsey Graham.

“The world keeps turning,” said Graham late last week as he departed the Capitol, en route to Africa. “I don’t need to know any more. I am done.”

There were only a few lawmakers on Capitol Hill when the report hit Washington Thursday morning.

The Constitution requires the House and Senate to convene every three days unless one body grants the other leave to abandon Washington. Otherwise, the House and Senate meet in brief, “pro forma” sessions, when each body just gavels in and gavels out. However, that requires the presence of at least one lawmaker.

Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., drew the lot to serve as the GOP’s designated, in-person-at-the-Capitol-spokesman-on-the-Mueller-Report once he rapped the gavel at 11:46 a.m. Thursday. Journalists waited for Blunt in the basement of the Russell Senate Office Building to get his views on the report. A couple of reporters sought out Rep. Don Beyer, D-Va., who presided over the House’s pro forma session late Thursday afternoon.

Congressional Democrats now see a yawning chasm between the contents of the Mueller Report and the interpretation presented by Barr and want to explore that daylight. It starts with the attorney general appearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee on May 1 and the House Judiciary Committee on May 2. That’s followed by a prospective appearance by Mueller himself sometime next month.

Nadler believes Mueller left a Hansel and Gretel trail of breadcrumbs through the impeachment forest. When asked Thursday about impeachment, Nadler wouldn’t rule it out – despite previous statements by Pelosi to the contrary. A top Pelosi aide tells Fox that impeachment remains out of the question. We may hear more from Pelosi on this score in the wee hours of Friday morning when she appears in Belfast, Northern Ireland and takes part in a Q&A.

There is peril for Democrats if they continue to discuss impeachment, which is why they must drive down both sides of the street. Impeachment talk harms moderate Democrats from battleground districts and lots of them would prefer to focus on policy issues like health care, prescription drugs, infrastructure and even gun policy before discussing impeachment.

However, if liberals push impeachment, moderate Democrats have a chance to contrast themselves, not with Republicans, but with members of their own party. They can say “No. I’m not for impeachment. Let’s work on bread and butter issues.”

But there is a risk for Democrats if they overplay their hand. That’s why Republicans are more than happy to lump all Democrats together. The key is how Democrats finesse this to satisfy both wings of their caucus.

House Freedom Caucus leader Mark Meadows, R-N.C., told Fox News Thursday that Democrats won’t stop attacking the President. Republicans want Democrats to attack the President. That works for the GOP.

The Mueller Report will dominate the news cycle over the holiday weekend, then wane next week as Congress remains out of session. It could then rise like a phoenix when Congress returns at the end of the month, punctuated by Barr’s testimony. That could spark another round of media frenzy, which would then die down before ramping up again if or when Mueller testifies.

This is the downside for Democrats, especially moderates who need to hold their seats in challenging districts. Too much talk about the report diverts attention from other policy priorities. Remember that the only other big legislative item on the docket this year is an imbroglio over the debt ceiling, a government shutdown, and, you guessed it, the border wall.

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The recess may have actually helped Republicans. They did not want to be in Washington for the release of the report. This is how some Republicans prefer to embrace President Trump: from afar. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., said it was time to move on. House Minority Whip Steve Scalise, R-La., said Democrats should apologize and quit harassing the President and his family.

But remember, the hot take is not always the lasting take. Public perception could shift on this, and that could be damaging to Republicans rushing to embrace what Barr said.

After all, this seems to be the never-ending story.

Source: Fox News Politics

Terrible things happen to wonderful places.

St. Rule’s Tower looms over what was once the enormous Cathedral of St. Andrew in St. Andrews, Scotland. John Knox stoked a Protestant mob to ransack the cathedral in 1559. The building fell into disrepair. Today, a concrete line delineates an abstract of the cathedral, outlining ruins. The nave and apse still stand, casting a shadow of a church that once was.

VIDEO OF BYSTANDERS SINGING ‘AVE MARIA’ AT NOTRE DAME GOES VIRAL

The Allies hit the cathedral in Cologne, Germany 14 times during World War II. But much of the structure remained, along with its twin, signature spires which pierce the sky. That’s what made the cathedral so easy for pilots to find during the war. The building still stands and remains the tallest Roman Catholic church on the planet.

During The War of 1812’s “Battle of Bladensburg,” the British burned both the White House and the U.S. Capitol. Much like the cathedral in Cologne, the new Capitol was easy to spy, resting atop what was known as Jenkins’ Hill. Lacking enough wood to burn the building to the ground, the British ignited books from the Library of Congress as fuel. In those days, the Library of Congress was located inside the Capitol – the same space now occupied by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky.

Wooden ceilings and floors burned quickly amid the heat. But much of the stone and masonry survived, although singed. To this day, tour guides note that the columns festooned with corn-cobs remain near the old Senate entrance to the Capitol, surviving the fire.

Ironically, a massive thunderstorm, spinning off a tornado along what is now Constitution Avenue, may have salvaged the rest of Washington. The storm prevented the British from razing the rest of the city.

They will rebuild Notre Dame, which suffered its own terrible blaze on Monday.

DOLAN SAYS NOTRE DAME WILL RISE AGAIN

Notre Dame withstood war – The French Revolution and Napoleon. What we know today as “Notre Dame” is not the same Notre Dame when it was constructed in the 13th Century; the spire that fell in the fire isn’t the original, for instance.

But when terrible things happen to old, historic places … those places evolve.

The Capitol was divided into the House and Senate wings when the British tore through. The Capitol Dome, as we know it today, was decades away. The contemporary House and Senate wings weren’t even fully conceived.

The U.S. Capitol is in a perpetual state of evolution. The original Senate and House wings the British torched more than two centuries ago were but a sliver of what they are today. Scaffolding encircled the Capitol Dome from 2013 through 2016 for the first major overhaul since the late 1950s. A superstructure covered the Senate wing not long after that. Now it’s the turn for the House wing.

The Cannon House Office Building across the street is now two years into a decade-long renovation. Workers have already refurbished parts of the building. Other corridors remain closed. There is an obvious, startling difference between the revamped sections of Cannon and those still in need of repair. The Cannon Rotunda, home to many a TV news standup and interview, is brighter and warmer. Other halls shine with modern fixtures. Cannon used to suffer from a lack of elevators. Workers have added sleek, new elevators to transport tourists, aides and lawmakers.

Of course, it wasn’t always like this. There wasn’t even a Cannon House Office Building – let alone Longworth and Rayburn House Office Buildings – until 1908. And Cannon was originally the House Office Building – because it was the only one. Congress named the building after House Speaker Joe Cannon, R-Ill., in 1962.

The Capitol complex is an organic, living, breathing place. The same can be said for Notre Dame and dozens of other historic sites around the world. The places we see today often withstand weather, fire, war – to say nothing of political turmoil.

Despite the massive fire, Notre Dame remains. The main belfry towers remain. The interior of the main sanctuary remains relatively intact considering the severity of the blaze.

But like so many historic structures around the globe, they change and evolve. The Notre Dame today was not the Notre Dame of Victor Hugo. It wasn’t even the Notre Dame of World War II or the funeral of Charles de Gaulle of 1970.

The U.S. Capitol isn’t the same as when the British tore through the building during the Battle of Bladensburg. There was no Rotunda. No Statuary Hall. No Ohio Clock Corridor. Trams didn’t whisk people underground between the Capitol and the Senate Office Buildings. The Statue of Freedom didn’t puncture the sky atop the original, wooden, “Bullfinch Dome.” After the 1812 fire, there was even a move by the incipient federal government to ditch Washington and head north to Philadelphia. The House of Representatives voted down a plan 83-54 to decamp from Washington. And in 1815, they decided to permanently maintain the government in Washington. It took until 1819 for the original parts of the half-built Capitol to re-open.

The Capitol absorbed these changes and transformed into what it is today. But early inhabitants of Washington, D.C., would barely recognize the congressional edifice now. The new House and Senate Office Buildings, the Capitol Visitor’s Center, even the Dome and Rotunda themselves are grafted onto the complex. Who knows what the Capitol will look like in 50 or 100 years – let alone 800.

The same with Notre Dame. It will change. And Paris will change with it. Today’s manifestation of Notre Dame is not what it will be.

But these buildings are testaments – not to themselves, but of what goes on between the walls and what they inspire. The salvation of spirit through the celebration of faith at Notre Dame. The formation of the most robust, vibrant democracy in the history of the world in the Capitol.

The U.S. Capitol is not just what was. But what it will yet become.

And the same is true for Notre Dame.

Source: Fox News Politics

Astronomers announced this week they finally observed what Albert Einstein hypothesized decades ago: a black hole.

A black hole is an abyss of oblivion. A concentration of nothingness. Black holes consume everything. Sound. Light. Space. Matter. Even time.

The threshold to a black hole is known as the “event horizon.” A black hole swallows anything which crosses the event horizon precipice forever.

FIRST-EVER BLACK HOLE PICTURE PROVES THE POWER OF SCIENCE, SAYS FORMER NASA ASTRONAUT

We are just now hitting the 100-day mark for the 116th Congress. It’s natural for House Democrats to tout their achievements at the 100-day mile post. Democrats hold a big majority, punctuated by an influx of diverse freshman. But House Republicans question exactly what the Democratic majority accomplished.

Republicans have controlled the Senate since 2015. Republicans added to their slim majority in the midterms. But the Senate is at the 100 day way station, too. Senate GOPers are busy touting how they’ve confirmed many of President Trump’s nominees. And Democrats are scratching their heads.

So what has Congress accomplished this year? The 116th Congress began as none before, amid a government shutdown – which started on the watch of the old Congress. It wasn’t until mid-February that all shutdown concerns were resolved and lawmakers could finally put their stamp on the 116th Congress.

Do the major issues of the day stand at the escarpment of a Congressional event horizon, ready to be siphoned into a political black hole? Unclear.

Fixing health care? Congressional Republicans discuss it all the time. They still want to ditch Obamacare. They’re rooting for the Justice Department to prevail in a court challenge to the law. Yet Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) wouldn’t directly answer an inquiry by Fox’s Bret Baier about what was the GOP plan. McConnell observed that the House was under Democratic control. He said that previous GOP efforts to repeal and replace Obamacare “didn’t work.”

“We’re not going to spend time in the Senate on issues that literally have no chance of becoming law,” said McConnell.

Democrats talk a lot about a permanent DACA fix and the plight of DREAMers. Yet nothing’s on the schedule from Democrats on that score. In some respects, the problems Democrats have addressing DACA/DREAMers resembles the obstacle which bedevils Republicans when it comes to health care. It sounds great on paper and in soundbites. But it’s a legislative quandary to pass something.

SEN. KAMALA HARRIS CO-SPONSORING BILL TO LET DREAMERS BE CAPITOL HILL INTERNS

Infrastructure? Nothing yet. Although House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) are meeting with the President on infrastructure soon. A measure to lower the price of prescription drugs? Nothing yet. Republicans assailed Democrats this past week when they failed to muster the votes to adopt a non-binding budget blueprint for fiscal year 2020.

“It was reported as somehow we lost control,” said House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD) of the decision by Democratic leaders to yank the budget package off the floor. The caucus splintered over spending priorities. “We never lost a vote that we wanted to win. And very frankly, we wouldn’t have lost a vote this week if we wanted to win. And we did win.”

To be fair, Democrats have tackled multiple agenda items they promised to deliver if voters awarded them the majority – even if most of those bills are going nowhere in the Senate.

House Democrats approved a sweeping measure advocating for political transparency and making it easier for people to vote. They passed a bill to tighten up firearms restrictions. House Democrats voted multiple times to re-open the government during the shutdown. They okayed a measure to rebuke the FCC on net neutrality. They moved a bill to terminate President Trump’s national emergency declaration. But they were 38 ballots shy of the votes required to override Mr. Trump’s first veto.

But again, there’s little buy-in from Senate Republicans on these bills, let alone the White House.

So, it’s no surprise that Republicans say they see a blank canvas in the House.

“It’s 100 days of nothing,” carped House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) about the Democrats. “It’s the U.S. House of resolutions.”

McCarthy argued Democrats passed various resolutions lacking teeth.

“I’ve had enough. I’m tired of voting on resolutions,” groused freshman Rep. Anthony Gonzalez (R-OH). “I will be voting ‘present’ from now on.”

Of course, Democratic investigations of the Trump Administration and the release of the Mueller report threaten to eclipse any policy achievements the Democrats may pursue.

On Tuesday, House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerry Nadler (D-NY), Energy & Commerce Committee Chairman Frank Pallone (D-NJ) and others summoned reporters for a press conference about the administration’s attempt to terminate Obamacare. But after a few health care-related questions, the interrogatives naturally turned to Attorney General William Barr and the Mueller report.

The Barr/Mueller questions frustrated freshman Rep. Katie Hill (D-CA).

“We’re here to have a press conference about a historical challenge to a law that protects millions of people,” said Hill. “We got elected to Congress is the reason (the House) flipped to Democrats in a huge, historic way. And instead, we’re getting questions about the issue that has nothing to do with the topic that we had the press conference about.”

Hill scolded reporters that they should “focus on what the American people sent us here for. It’s not to talk about the Mueller report. It’s to talk about their health care.”

Hill’s right. Democrats didn’t win the House in battleground districts talking about Special Counsel Robert Mueller, investigations and issues facing the President. Democrats captured many swing districts by discussing challenges to Obamacare by Republicans. But so far, there’s little movement on health policy in Congress.

MUELLER REPORT SUMMARY RELEASED, SHOWING NO PROOF TRUMP TEAM CONSPIRED WITH RUSSIA

In the Senate, McConnell’s made a lot of noise about confirming many of President Trump’s nominees. He always touts the fact that senators are in “the personnel business.” McConnell even executed a sophisticated procedural gambit recently to make it easier to confirm lower-tier nominees. But other than confirmations and votes to re-open the government, the most-consequential Senate vote this year dealt with the Green New Deal. McConnell wanted to get Senate Democrats running for President on the record as supporting or opposing the Green New Deal. The Senate couldn’t even command the votes just to start debate on the Green New Deal. McConnell conceded on Fox that his effort to debate the Green New Deal was a show vote.

“Once in a while, people ought to go on the record and decide whether they’re willing to vote for what they say they’re for,” said McConnell.

But the Senate doesn’t have much legislation on its docket.

Schumer says McConnell has “turned the Senate into a legislative graveyard.”

McConnell doubts the Senate can accomplish much with a Democratic House. So he and other Republicans are attempting to cast Democrats in the poorest possible light.

“What’s going to be on display next year is a debate on whether we want to turn America into a socialist country,” said McConnell to Bret Baier.

“You’ve seen this far-left agenda,” echoed House Minority Whip Steve Scalise (R-LA). “All you see is an attempt to harass the President.”

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The Mueller report is coming soon. That’s sure to commandeer most news oxygen in Washington. House and Senate leaders are already talking about forging an agreement to potentially sidestep government shutdowns for the next two years. But few can see a pathway on major legislative items soon – let alone bills President Trump would sign into law.

If that’s the case, Congress may have arrived at a legislative event horizon. And voters may wonder if Capitol Hill is where the major issues are swallowed into nothingness.

Source: Fox News Politics

Nobody talked like the late Sen. Fritz Hollings, D-S.C.

Nobody sounded like Fritz Hollings.

Nobody was Fritz Hollings.

“When it comes to Senator Hollings, they broke the mold,” observed Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., in a statement. “Fritz was a giant of a man who was often called the ‘senator from central casting.'”

“He was an original,” said Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y.

Fritz Hollings died over the weekend at age 97. Hollings was tall, standing about 6’3″. He was topped by a shock of sleek, white hair, always demarcated by a crisp part on the left. Always dressed impeccably, in tailored, pinstripe suits.

Hollings just looked like a senator.

And then there was the voice.

The pipes were what really distinguished Hollings. His voice was deep like a hollowed-out, Lowcountry well. The result was a resonant, rich, southern drawl. When Hollings spoke, he just sounded the way you thought a senator from South Carolina would sound. Think Foghorn Leghorn crossed with James Earl Jones.

And when Hollings took the floor, everything in the Senate stopped. You couldn’t ignore him. Hollings would prowl around his desk near the rear of the Senate chamber. Hollings didn’t need props. He didn’t need a stack of papers. Hollings just had his own, 100-watt sound system. The senator would thunder from the back of the Senate and his voice would rattle the copper spittoons which remain on the floor in front.

“If this budget is balanced, I’ll jump off the Capitol Dome!” Hollings once cried during a speech about fiscal discipline in the mid-1990s. He stretched out the word “dome” into a polysyllabic melody.

Hollings then proceeded to upbraid his colleagues who would “ride around the countryside in limousines,” describing the entire affair “a grand farce.”

Only, Hollings didn’t quite say “farce.” He stretched out the word “farce” like a grade-school kid playing with slime. There was no discernable “r” in Hollings’s enunciation.

Hollings served in the Senate from 1966 through 2005. But despite his lengthy tenure in Washington, Hollings was South Carolina’s junior senator for all but the final two years of his career. That made Hollings the longest-serving junior senator in U.S. history. Sen. Strom Thurmond, R-S.C., arrived in the Senate in 1954, and after a seven-month gap in 1956, never left until he retired at age 100 in January 2003. Thurmond’s longevity always blocked Hollings when it came to seniority.

Skyrocketing federal spending was Hollings’ key issue. He teamed with then-Sen. Phil Gramm, R-Texas, and the late Sen. Warren Rudman, R-N.H., to create a balanced budget plan called “Gramm-Rudman-Hollings” in 1985. You may have heard of “sequestration,” the package of mandatory spending cuts imposed by the debt ceiling deal of 2011. Sequestration lingers to this day over what Congress terms as “discretionary” spending. However, Gramm-Rudman-Hollings was the original version of sequestration. It canceled spending, preventing Congress from exceeding certain fiscal ceilings.

The House and Senate approved Gramm-Rudman-Hollings in 1985. But the Supreme Court case Bowsher v. Synar found the automatic cuts to be unconstitutional. The argument was that Gramm-Rudman-Hollings ceded spending authority to the executive branch. Senators retooled the plan in 1987, but it never resulted in smaller deficits. Hollings later lopped off his surname from the legislation, saying the revised effort lacked teeth.

As much as you remembered Hollings’ voice, people often recalled what he said – for good or ill.

Congressional Republicans frequently pushed for tax cuts. Hollings often suggested that the government really needed a tax increase to balance the books.

Hollings sought the Democratic presidential nomination in 1984. “Shoot all the economists,” he said. “Shoot all the pollsters.” It wouldn’t have helped. Hollings dropped out of the race after a poor showing in New Hampshire.

Hollings once referred to then-Sen. Howard Metzenbaum, D-Ohio, as “the senator from B’nai B’rith.” Metzenbaum, who was Jewish, took issue with the South Carolinian’s characterization of him and the Jewish service organization. Hollings later apologized and the language was stripped from the Congressional Record.

When discussing an international trade meeting in Switzerland, Hollings said that “these potentates down from Africa, you know, rather than eating each other, they’d just come up and get a good, square meal in Geneva.”

Hollings chaired a Commerce Committee hearing about violence on TV in the early 1990s.

“What is it? Buffcoat and Beaver or Beaver and something else?” Hollings said at the hearing, referring to MTV’s animated ne’er-do-wells Beavis and Butt-Head. “I don’t watch it. But whatever it was, it was on at 7. Buffcoat. And they put it on now at 10:30.”

Current South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster ran against Hollings for Senate in 1986.

“I’ll take a drug test if you’ll take an IQ test,” snapped Hollings during one contentious exchange.

Hollings prevailed with 63 percent of the vote. But McMaster and former Vice President Joe Biden will both speak at Hollings’s funeral next week. Hollings will also lie in state in the South Carolina statehouse.

When Hollings was on his way out from the Senate in 2005, he noted that a letter to the editor of a local paper declared “‘We hope Hollings enjoys his retirement, because we sure as hell will.'”

Bipartisan members of South Carolina’s House delegation assembled in the well of the House chamber Monday evening to pay tribute to Hollings. House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn spoke about Hollings’s push for desegregation while serving as South Carolina governor.

Clyburn says he first met Hollings in 1960, when Clyburn was organizing sit-ins. Hollings invited Clyburn to his office.

“He gave me a great lesson that day in politics,” said Clyburn, saying that even to this day, he’s not spoken publicly about some of the kernels of wisdom Hollings passed along.

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Clyburn said that in 1962, just before Hollings was to finish his term as governor, the courts ruled that Clemson University had to integrate.

“Fritz spoke to the legislature and said to them on that day, ‘We have run out of courts. And we are going to be a nation of laws,'” said Clyburn.

Fritz Hollings may have fallen silent. But to Clyburn and others, the voice still echoes.

Source: Fox News Politics

Commentators spilled a lot of ink this week, forecasting the end of the Senate filibuster.

They didn’t have to. The filibuster’s days have been numbered for years.

SENATE MOVES TO SPEED UP CONFIRMATION OF NOMINEES

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., deployed an artful parliamentary gambit this week on a related front. McConnell’s goal was to prune the amount of time the Senate can burn after it breaks a filibuster — before confirming lower-level administration nominees. Congressional observers suggested that McConnell’s maneuver spelled doom for the filibuster itself.

The Senate’s tinkered around the edges of the filibuster – as it pertains to nominees – three times in five-and-a-half years. Squeezing available debate time was the case this week. The chamber lowered the bar to crush filibusters for nominees via what’s billed as “Nuclear Option #1” in 2013 (under Democratic control) and Nuclear Option #2 in 2017 (under Republican control). But both of those schemes only dealt with nominations. There is nothing in the mix yet about abolishing filibusters for legislation.

McConnell says the Senate doesn’t have the votes to euthanize the legislative filibuster. He’s right. But only for now. That may change. The Senate previously lacked the votes to lower the standard to squelch filibusters for executive branch nominees, except the Supreme Court. That was the case until then-Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., deployed Nuclear Option #1 in 2013. McConnell then dropped the requirement of 60 votes to quash a filibuster on Supreme Court nominees with Nuclear Option #2 in 2017. The Senate didn’t have the support to accelerate the confirmation of lower-tier nominees — until McConnell meddled with Senate procedure this week.

DEMS TAKE AIM AT FILIBUSTER

Like everything on Capitol Hill, it comes down to the math. That’s why Reid and McConnell carried out these ploys. They had the votes on their side. So they went ahead and executed their plans.

Reid and McConnell both administered their filibuster-related contrivances to boost Presidents Obama and Trump, respectively. So why wouldn’t a Senate majority try to boost a president of their own party by ending the legislative filibuster?

Trump repeatedly browbeat McConnell over the current filibuster rule for legislation. Sixty votes are necessary to terminate a legislative filibuster. A filibuster prevented Trump from scoring a big win two years ago to repeal and replace ObamaCare. At the time, Republicans only held a 51-49 advantage in the Senate. Senate Republicans fretted that eliminating the legislative filibuster could backfire. Democrats would only have to poach the votes of a couple of Republican senators to advance their own legislative priorities – despite GOP Senate control. For instance, a coalition of Republican senators worked with Senate Democrats last year to undercut a Trump administration policy about net neutrality.

It would take a lot to kill the legislative filibuster.

Forty-four Standing Rules govern the Senate’s operations. Senate Rule XXII (22) deals with filibusters. Rule XXII enables the Senate to thwart a filibuster. Sixty yeas are needed to halt a filibuster on legislation (called “invoking cloture”). A simple majority of senators are needed to end debate or a filibuster on nominations, thanks to Nuclear Options #1 & #2.

The Senate can vote to change any of its rules. But altering the rules is subject to a filibuster itself. The threshold to kill the filibuster of a proposed rules change is an eye-popping 67 yeas. Two-thirds of the Senate.

So, it’s nearly impossible to change the Senate’s rules.

But there’s the rub. The Senate conducts much of its business via precedent. There are only 44 standing rules. Yet the book of Senate precedents is immense. Neither Reid nor McConnell could amass 67 votes for a rules change. But they sure could steer the Senate into the appropriate parliamentary posture to implement a precedent change. A precedent change entails a mere 51 votes (or a simple majority). That’s precisely how Reid and McConnell effectuated the latest parliamentary shifts for filibusters. And if the Senate would ever eliminate the legislative filibuster, senators would likely follow the course burnished by Reid and McConnell for the Nuclear Option.

Americans romanticize the filibuster. They think of stem-winding, all-night orations and Jimmy Stewart. But most filibusters aren’t that intriguing.

Seizing the Senate floor and speaking for hours on end isn’t always a filibuster. Blocking something constitutes a filibuster. Remember the “filibuster” just before the 2013 government shutdown by Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas? Cruz spoke on the floor for 21 hours and 18 minutes. It was the third-longest speech since 1900. But Cruz wasn’t filibustering. Cruz had to yield the floor around noon the next day because Reid locked the Senate in for a procedural vote day. So, even though Cruz spoke for a really long time, it truly wasn’t a filibuster. The Texas Republican simply delivered an exhausting speech.

The public rarely notices filibuster, even though they go on all the time. Dozens of bills never make it to the floor because a senator or a group of senators are filibustering the bill. You just don’t see them doing it publicly. The Senate majority leader knows if he has the votes to complete a bill. If he doesn’t, the leader usually doesn’t try to force the issue because of a phantom filibuster. So the Senate never even tackles those bills.

That said, the Senate votes to break filibusters constantly. The Senate vanquishes filibusters by “invoking cloture.” In those instances, the filibuster is real. Senators usually aren’t on the floor talking all day and night. But in order to move on, the majority leader initiates the process via Rule XXII to “bring debate to a close.” The leader typically knows he has 60 votes to “invoke cloture” and kill the filibuster.

There is some thought on Capitol Hill that the filibuster could evaporate if Republicans maintain control of the Senate in 2020 and Trump wins a second term. Perhaps the same scenario is in play if Democrats win the Senate and the White House in 2020, too. Others suggest the demise of the legislative filibuster won’t come until 2025.

But one thing’s for sure: a weapon exists to get rid of the filibuster. Harry Reid invented the Nuclear Option stratagem. McConnell’s now perfected it. The only difference is if the Senate has the political will to eliminate this Senate tradition.

Source: Fox News Politics

Reps. Jerry Nadler, D-N.Y., Maxine Waters, D-Calif., Elijah Cummings, D-Md., and 14 other Democrats currently in the House voted in 1998 against releasing the Starr Report about President Bill Clinton.

But 21 years later, many of those Democratic lawmakers are some of the most ardent voices in Congress pushing for the full release of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s report into Russian meddling in the 2016 election.

Judiciary Committee Chairman Nadler, Oversight Committee Chairman Cummings, Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Eliot Engel, D-N.Y., and Financial Services Committee Chairwoman Waters are part of a group of lawmakers in the lower chamber putting pressure on Attorney General William Barr to release the so-called Mueller Report. But back in 1998, these lawmakers were among the 63 then serving in the House to vote against release of Independent Counsel Ken Starr’s report on his investigation into President Bill Clinton.

HOUSE JUDICIARY COMMITTEE DEMOCRATS AUTHORIZE SUBPOENAS FOR MUELLER REPORT

The Starr Report began in 1994 under Independent Counsel Robert Fiske as a probe into “Whitewater,” a land deal involving President Bill Clinton and First Lady Hillary Clinton when he was governor of Arkansas. But it eventually morphed into questions of obstruction of justice involving Clinton over his relations with Monica Lewinsky.

The House voted 363-63 to release the Starr Report on September 11, 1998, with all 63 no votes coming from Democrats.

On Wednesday, current members of the House Judiciary Committee voted 24-17 to give Nadler permission to issue subpoenas to the Justice Department for the final report, its exhibits and any underlying evidence or materials prepared for Mueller’s investigation. Nadler has not yet said if he’ll send the subpoenas, which would be the first step in a potentially long fight with the Justice Department over the materials.

The Judiciary panel also voted Wednesday to authorize subpoenas related to five of President Donald Trump’s former top advisers, stepping up a separate, wide-ranging investigation into Trump and his personal and political dealings.

On the Mueller report, House Democrats had given Barr until Tuesday to provide an unredacted verson to Congress, along with underlying materials. The Justice Department ignored that deadline, with Barr telling committee chairmen in a letter last week that he was in the process of redacting portions of the almost 400-page report and it would be released by mid-April, “if not sooner.”

The vote further escalates the Democrats’ battle with the Justice Department over how much of the report they will be able to see, a fight that could eventually head to court if the two sides can’t settle their differences through negotiation. Democrats have said they will not accept redactions and want to see the evidence unfiltered by Barr.

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In the letter last week, Barr said he is going over the report to avoid disclosing any grand jury information or classified material, in addition to portions of the report that pertain to ongoing investigations or that “would unduly infringe on the personal privacy and reputational interests of peripheral third parties.”

Democrats say they want access to all of that information, even if some of it can’t be disclosed to the public. Nadler said he will give Barr time to change his mind on redactions, but if they cannot reach an agreement,  the subpoenas will be issued “in very short order.” He also said he is prepared to go to court to get the grand jury information.

“This committee requires the full report and the underlying materials because it is our job, not the attorney general’s, to determine whether or not President Trump has abused his office,” Nadler said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Source: Fox News Politics

The superintendents for both the House and Senate office buildings have been placed on administrative leave pending an investigation into inappropriate emails, Fox News has learned.

Multiple sources confirm to Fox that House Building Superintendent Bill Weidemeyer and Senate Building Superintendent Takis Tzamaras were placed on administrative leave pending an investigation.

At issue are inappropriate emails regarding Acting Architect of the Capitol Christine Merdon.

Weidemeyer and Tzamaras both report to Merdon. Weidemeyer is in charge of the Cannon, Longworth and Rayburn House Office Buildings, and Tzamaras is in charge of the Russell, Dirksen and Hart Senate Office Buildings.

Lawmakers and congressional committees maintain their offices in those sets of buildings, located just across the street from the Capitol.

Merdon became Acting Architect of the Capitol in February after Architect of the Capitol Stephen Ayers retired last year. There have only been 11 Architects of the Capitol in U.S. history. The Architect of the Capitol is nominated by the president and confirmed by the Senate. Architects of the Capitol handle the congressional campus infrastructure, including the Capitol itself, the adjacent office buildings and the Library of Congress.

President Trump has not formally nominated anyone for the open Architect of the Capitol position.

An aide for House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., directed inquires about the matter to the Architect of the Capitol’s office.

The Architect of the Capitol’s office did not respond to inquiries by Fox News.

Source: Fox News Politics

Impeachment is on the table — but it may just depend about whose table you’re talking about.

Does your family serve a traditional turkey at Thanksgiving? Or a deep-fried turducken? Cream gravy? Giblet gravy? Gravy with meat drippings? Green bean casserole on the side?

It all hinges on whose house in which you are dining.

Impeachment isn’t on the table in the home of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif. But impeachment is indeed the main entrée at the table of Reps. Rashida Tlaib, D-Mich., and Al Green, D-Texas. Despite the preliminary findings of Special Counsel Robert Mueller, Tlaib and Green are still pushing to impeach President Trump.

Green first introduced articles of impeachment two years ago. The freshman Tlaib snared headlines after she appeared at an event in Washington, D.C., just hours after she was sworn in as a new member on January 3.

“We’re going to go in and we’re going to impeach the motherf—–!” boasted Tlaib.

The Michigan congresswoman spoke in more measured terms last week as she touted a new effort to impeach Trump.

“The president hasn’t agreed to divest in foreign and domestic businesses. That puts him in direct conflict with the U.S. Constitution. He can’t do that as a sitting CEO, working out of the Oval Office,” said Tlaib. “We need to look at and investigate these possibly impeachable offenses.”

“This is our watch,” said Green. “Will we continue to allow the Constitution to be subverted?”

Green and Tlaib have been working to get the House Judiciary Committee to investigate whether or not President Trump committed offenses worthy of impeachment.

Green cited Alexander Hamilton writing about presidential impeachments in the Federalist Paper #65. In the Federalist Papers, Hamilton, James Madison and John Jay made the case for a check on the executive through what the British sometimes called “maladministration.” The Founders didn’t settle on “maladministration.” Instead, they concocted the term “high crimes and misdemeanors” as the threshold for impeachment.

At the Constitutional Convention, Madison said it was “indispensable” to include an impeachment clause in the nation’s founding document. A failure to do so would grant the executive too much power — unless, of course, the people felt the executive abused his power and warranted removal the way they usually handled things in Europe: a raucous mob killing the king.

But, the Founders also wanted accountability. That’s why they granted the House the power of impeachment — the equivalent of a Congressional indictment. Up for re-election every two years, House members are closest to the people and voters. Remember, in the beginning, state legislatures elected senators. So, the Founders wanted to impose political consequences on House members – if voters determined they pushed too hard for what was perceived as impeachment overreach.

“I want (my colleagues) only to do what Madison contemplated, Hamilton contemplated, Jay contemplated, in the Federalist Papers,” said Green. “This is our moment.”

And, if people believe Green and Tlaib have been going too far, they’ll have to face the voters in 2020, just as Madison, Hamilton and Jay envisioned.

“Leadership says to all of us, represent your district,” said Tlaib. “I can’t continue to look the other way when I have a president that does not follow the U.S. Constitution.”

TLAIB CALLS TRUMP ‘MOST DANGEROUS THREAT’ TO DEMOCRACY

The Democratic Congressional leadership usually gives its members great latitude on knowing best how to represent their districts. Impeaching President Trump appears popular in the districts represented by Green, Tlaib and a host of other Democrats — but not all. The party won control of the House in large part because voters elected moderate Democrats in battleground districts where the president performed well. Is there distance between Pelosi, who took impeachment off the table a few weeks ago, and Democrats like Green and Tlaib?

“I don’t think that’s an important question,” said Pelosi. “Some people have been asking for impeachment for a while. That doesn’t impact my action.”

Pelosi added that the House “shouldn’t impeach a president because of a political reason.”

So what is the proper standard? The Constitution only says “high Crimes and Misdemeanors.”

Some Constitutional scholars have asserted the phrase “high Crimes and Misdemeanors” simply refers to a chief executive harming the state. That’s a little bit what Green is referencing.

But, doesn’t the result of the Mueller report findings, with no further indictments and no prosecution of the president, undercut an impeachment endeavor?

“Not one scintilla,” replied Green. “What we’ve been talking about has to do with the president’s behavior that is not criminal in nature. A president does not have to commit a crime to be impeached. Mr. Mueller is investigating criminality. The House taking up impeachment does not have to confine itself to that.”

Hence, the problem with what is defined as “high Crimes and Misdemeanors” as proscribed in Article II, Section 4 of the Constitution.

Many Constitutional scholars who have filleted the “high Crimes and Misdemeanors” touchstone have concluded that impeachment is not so much a legal question, but, indeed, a political question. One could certainly make an argument regarding the House’s decision to impeach both Presidents Andrew Johnson and Bill Clinton. The full House did not impeach President Richard Nixon – and perhaps the case for impeachment was stronger there than in the instances of Johnson and Clinton. That’s why Pelosi noted that “we shouldn’t not impeach a president if the evidence is there for impeachment. But that’s not where we are.”

Pelosi faced a cadre of lawmakers demanding impeachment for President George W. Bush over the Iraq war in 2006 just after Democrats won the House and she was about to become speaker. Pelosi remarked at the time that “impeachment was off the table.” Pelosi mirrored those remarks a few days ago when asked about President Trump and the Mueller report.

“Impeachment is not on the table until it is on the table,” said Pelosi.

Yet, impeachment is on the bill of fare served by Green, Tlaib and others. So, what in fact constitutes “the table?”

“I think the Speaker made it very clear that (impeachment is) not on the table,” said House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md, “and I will tell you what the table is. It’s at least the Speaker and myself.”

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Pelosi and Hoyer are the ones who count – along with most Democrats who have no interest in impeaching President Trump. So, impeachment is not an entrée on most Democratic dinner tables. It is hardly the main course.

Depending on the district, impeachment is at best, an amuse-bouche.

Source: Fox News Politics


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