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Politics

Poll: Democrat Leads GOP Governor in Kentucky

By Nathan L. Gonzales
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Heard on the Hill

Listen to the New Sing-Song Warning for Senate Subway Riders

By Katherine Tully-McManus
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Heard on the Hill

Word on the Hill: What’s Buzzing on Capitol Hill?

By Roll Call Staff
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The House and Senate on Thursday passed new legislation overhauling the process for handling sexual harassment claims on Capitol Hill, one day after the announcement of a joint agreement on the measure. The legislation will head to the White House for President Donald Trump’s signature.

[Read the bill text]

Senate Rules and Administration Chairman Roy Blunt of Missouri led the passage of the bill, by unanimous consent. Blunt worked with the panel’s ranking member, Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., along with party leaders and several House members on the deal.

“This was something we had to get done by the end of the year. Getting rid of that cooling off period, getting rid of a lot of the ... byzantine way these cases were being handled,” Klobuchar said. “This is going to be better for victims, and I’m proud that the Senate has come together on a bipartisan basis to get this bill done.”

Watch: Senate Quickly Passes Sexual Harassment Bill By Unanimous Consent

Klobuchar said she and other senators involved would have more to say on the measure later on. The final legislation was introduced earlier in the day on Thursday.

The bill, which is expected on the House floor next week, overhauls the reporting and resolution process established as part of the 1995 law that governs workplace harassment and discrimination claims in Congress, dubbed the Congressional Accountability Act.

“The process we have will now protect victims of harassment instead of protecting politicians,” said Klobuchar.

A major goal of the legislation is to end the practice of settling harassment claims against lawmakers with taxpayer dollars.

“Time’s up for lawmakers who sexually harass ... They will no longer be able to slink away and have no one know they harassed,” said Rep. Jackie Speier, D-Calif.

The Office of Compliance has handled cases totaling at least $15 million in settlements about harassment or discrimination allegations since 1997. The practice flew under the radar until the #MeToo movement emerged in late 2017 and lawmakers and taxpayers began to call for change.

More than 1,500 former congressional staffers sent a letter last year demanding changes to the law to protect accusers.

The joint bill would hold members liable for their own bad behavior, but not for that of their staff.

The House plans to take further action beyond the joint overhaul of the CAA. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi said last week that if a compromise was struck on policies for all of Capitol Hill, the House could enact additional policies for their own chamber focused on areas where members think joint legislation doesn’t go far enough.

“While this compromise with the Senate is a good first step, House Republicans and Democrats remain committed to working in a bipartisan manner to address outstanding issues in the 116th Congress, including passing legislation which holds Members personally liable for discrimination, reauthorizing the Employee Advocate, and strengthening our workplace rights and responsibilities education program,” said House Administration Committee Chairman Gregg Harper, Robert Brady, Paul D. Ryan, Nancy Pelosi, Bradley Byrne and Jackie Speier in a statement Wednesday night. 

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The House is leaving in limbo an $80 billion package of tax breaks as it leaves for the weekend on Thursday, though in theory there’s still time to take up the measure next week before lawmakers leave town for the holidays.

The second time had been shaping up to be the charm for House Ways and Means Chairman Kevin Brady’s now refurbished year-end tax bill, as Republicans appeared to be lining up behind it Wednesday. An earlier version expected on the floor two weeks ago never made it due to objections from rank-and-file Republicans.

There’s little appetite for the bill in the Senate, however, where Democrats object to fixing errors included in the 2017 tax code overhaul that passed without a single vote from their side of the aisle.

There are other politically charged items in the House GOP bill as well, such as repealing the so-called Johnson amendment, which prohibits nonprofits, such as church groups, from endorsing political candidates.

House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., left the measure off of Thursday’s brief floor agenda. The House is not scheduled to be in session Friday, which means the window is closing as lawmakers want to wrap up the 115th Congress next week in time for Christmas.

“We feel good about where we are and will continue to have discussions with members over the weekend,” said Lauren Fine, a spokeswoman for House Majority Whip Steve Scalise, R-La.

House GOP whip-counters reported positive numbers coming in Wednesday as leadership polled members for the second time in two weeks on package.

A planned Nov. 30 vote on an earlier version was pulled because of a lack of support from the GOP caucus, whose members were concerned about the bill including an extension of an excise tax on coal, among other worries.

That provision is gone, and so are extensions of 26 various tax breaks that had added $29.9 billion in costs to the bill. What is left is more popular, leaders say.

“Really good right now,” Rep. Tom Cole, R-Okla., said of the in-process whip count on Brady’s new version of the bill.

“We were literally just whipping it now, but you know how tough it is to get Republicans to vote for a tax cut,” he said with a chuckle.

“I think we’ll have a good, strong count,” Cole added.

The nearly $30 billion in tax breaks were replaced with more than $50 billion worth of delayed taxes related to the 2010 health care law.

The revised bill would extend a suspension of the medical device tax for five years through 2024, the health insurer fee for two years through 2021, and the so-called Cadillac tax on high-cost employer-sponsored health plans for one additional year through 2022.

Those three delays would cost the Treasury about $52 billion, Brady, R-Texas, has said. The measure also would repeal the law’s tax on indoor tanning services, at a relatively small cost of about $40 million a year.

The tax has brought in a lot less revenue than initially estimated — the Joint Committee on Taxation in 2010 said it would be raising $300 million annually by now.

Rep. Bradley Byrne, R-Ala., said he thinks Brady’s revamped bill seems to have gathered enough votes to pass the House.

“I think there’s enough in there, certainly for me, to whip ‘yes,’ and we’ll just have to see if there’s enough in there for the rest of them to whip ’yes,’” Byrne said. “I generally support changes to the tax code that are going to save people money. But we just weren’t prepared for that last time — clearly — I mean, I talked to members of the Ways and Means Committee that weren’t for it, so that’s a pretty bad sign.”

Although Brady dropped the tax extenders from his bill, he has said he hopes the Senate picks up that part of the package. Sen. Charles E. Grassley, R-Iowa, a senior member of the Finance Committee, has said he expects the extenders, along with other less controversial parts of Brady’s bill could end up in a wrap-up spending bill.

The main features of Brady’s new bill that have bipartisan support include language to overhaul the IRS that passed as a stand-alone bill by a vote of 414-0 earlier this year; temporary tax breaks for residents in areas hit by hurricanes Michael and Florence, among other natural disasters; and retirement savings provisions. Democrats, though, have been vocal about opposing Brady’s effort to include technical corrections to the 2017 tax code overhaul.

Rep. Frank D. Lucas, R-Okla., on Nov. 30 blamed pulling the original vote on the tax package on Republicans trying “to do big policy in the final hours” as they were still adjusting to the new realities wrought by the election.

But on Wednesday, Lucas reported members he’d polled were in favor of the revised measure.

“My whip card’s actually positive, and I have some of the more contrarian members,” he said.

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I love elections, particularly congressional races, but I’m just not in a hurry to jump to 2020. And I’m completely fine with holding off on releasing our race ratings until next year.

If I didn’t like elections, I would probably need to take a long look at doing something else with my life, although at this point I’m not even sure what that would be. My previous experience includes working the corner as a human directional (the politically-correct term for sign twirler), making pizzas at Figaros, digging irrigation trenches on campus, and folding jeans at Urban Outfitters.

When I started working at The Rothenberg Political Report more than 17 years ago, there was something called an “off year.” I know, it sounds strange. Of course, there were a handful of states that chose to elect a governor at weird times, but federal races were slower in coming together.

Not anymore.

Whether it’s the increased importance of fundraising, the pressure to clear the field of other contenders, or just the constant mandate to “win the day” every day, our election “cycles” are constant.

Candidates are already jockeying for position in some key races, we’re closer to having a new senator from Arizona, and I’m sure some other incumbents are contemplating retirement where open seats could be game-changers.

But the analysis can wait a few weeks. The world isn’t going to end without my hot takes. It’s OK to pause, take a deep breath, and recover from the 2018 (and 2016) elections while enjoying the holidays. Spend some time with the family you love (and the family you don’t.) Get outside. Eat delicious baked goods. And reflect on the important things in life, including how in the world the Seattle Seahawks are going to make the playoffs.

I realize some folks (OK, most folks) have already released 2020 ratings, and we won’t wait forever to acknowledge the obvious just to stick it to the establishment. The first issue of Inside Elections in January will be a 2020 Senate Overview and our House ratings won’t be too far behind.

But for now, take a break, and don’t feel bad about it.

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Sen. Jon Kyl is expected to retire from the Senate again at the end of the calendar year.

The Arizona Republic reported that the GOP senator, who returned to the Senate as the appointee replacing the late Sen. John McCain, will leave effective Dec. 31.

That sets up the much-expected opportunity for Gov. Doug Ducey to appoint another replacement senator.

If Kyl’s replacement can be named and sworn-in ahead of noon on January 3, he or she will actually be Arizona’s senior senator in the next Congress, jumping the line of the incoming freshmen.

Watch: Jon Kyl Sworn In to Senate, Again

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The Senate on Thursday ordered the Pentagon to cease its military involvement on behalf of Saudi Arabia in the Yemeni civil war. It marked the first time since the 1973 passage of the War Powers Act that the Senate has ordered the executive branch to end an unauthorized military campaign.

The Senate passed, 56-41, the joint resolution, as amended, that would direct the president to remove U.S. armed forces from hostilities in or affecting the Republic of Yemen, except forces engaged in operations directed at Al Qaeda or associated forces, within 30 days of the joint resolution’s adoption of the joint resolution, unless and until a declaration of war or specific authorization of such use of force has been enacted.

The vote was widely viewed as a proxy vote to rebuke Saudi Arabia, whose war against Yemen has led to a humanitarian crisis there, and whose culpability in the killing of dissident Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi this year has roiled Congress. It was also viewed as a rebuke of President Donald Trump, who has stood by the Saudis. 

Sen. Christopher S. Murphy, D-Conn., who sponsored the resolution with Sens. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., and Mike Lee, R-Utah, said the vote showed the magnitude of people fed up with Saudi Arabia’s conduct. 

“With this vote, Saudi Arabia just lost the support of Congress for their disastrous war in Yemen. A bipartisan majority spoke with one voice that the status quo is over and we will no longer accept the war crimes being committed in our name,” said Murphy. “The momentum is on one side, and it’s only growing. Congress has woken up to the reality that the Saudi-led Coalition is using U.S. military support to kill thousands of civilians, bomb hospitals, block humanitarian aid, and arm radical militias. The Saudis are important partners, but they need to realize that our partnership is not a blank check for them to fund extremists and murder civilians.”

After the landmark vote, the Senate by voice vote passed a nonbinding resolution from Senate Foreign Relations Chairman Bob Corker, R-Tenn., and Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., that states Saudi Arabia’s de facto ruler, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, is responsible for the assassination of Khashoggi and criticizes numerous other actions by Riyadh as well as the Houthi insurgents in Yemen and their Iranian backers.

“I absolutely believe that if the crown prince came before a jury here in the United States of America, he would be convicted guilty in under 30 minutes,” Corker said in a Wednesday floor speech. “I absolutely believe he directed it. I believe he monitored it and I believe he is responsible for it.” 

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Heard on the Hill

Farewell to George H.W. Bush

By Bill Clark
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