John Gramlich

Lawmakers Seek Criminal Drug Sentencing Overhaul

Even as medical marijuana supporters gear up for a vote this summer, a bipartisan group of senators is pushing separate legislation that would overhaul criminal sentencing laws with an eye toward reducing some drug-related penalties.

Permanent Policy Riders Represent 'New Twist' in Annual Spending Debates

A pair of firearms provisions buried deep within the chairman’s mark of the fiscal 2015 Commerce-Justice-Science funding bill highlight an emerging strategy in the annual debate over spending: Policy language that seeks to make permanent changes in the law.

Fear of GOP Senate Takeover Spurs Liberal Calls for Ginsburg Retirement

With the Supreme Court’s term winding down and Republicans’ midterm election prospects on the rise, some liberal legal advocates want Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg to retire this summer. That way, President Barack Obama can appoint a like-minded successor while the Senate is still under Democratic control.

Obama Has Supported Three Anti-Trolling Bills

To the casual observer, the Obama administration’s approach to the congressional debate over patent trolls may seem erratic.

Big Businesses Vie for Favored Provisions as Senators Finalize 'Patent Troll' Bill

Four months after the House passed a far-reaching bill to prevent abusive patent infringement lawsuits, senators are close to striking a deal on their own legislation, according to aides in both parties.

Holder Sees Constitutional Basis for Obama's Executive Actions

Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. rebutted Republican accusations that President Barack Obama’s use of executive power is unconstitutional during a lengthy Senate oversight hearing Wednesday that touched on policy areas ranging from government surveillance to the dangers of marijuana.

Holder, appearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee hours after Obama delivered a State of the Union address in which he promised to assert his executive authority in the face of congressional gridlock, clashed with Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, over the legal basis for some of the president’s past unilateral actions. Republicans, including Speaker John A. Boehner of Ohio, increasingly have argued that Obama’s use of executive power to set policy without lawmakers’ input could run counter to the Constitution’s requirement that the president “take care that the laws be faithfully executed.”

POTUS Crashed My Leisurely Lunch

One minute you're stuffing your face with a burrito, and the next the Secret Service is snooping through your bags and subjecting you to a full body scan.

This is what happens when the president decides to chow down at the same D.C. restaurant as you.

'Stand Your Ground' Hearing Meant to Spark Debate, Not Federal Legislation

A Senate hearing Tuesday on state “stand your ground” laws is likely to feature emotional testimony from the mother of slain Florida teenager Trayvon Martin, but is not intended to lay the groundwork for federal legislation addressing such statutes, according to a Democratic aide.

Instead, the hearing is meant to spark a “national debate on the impact of these laws,” said an aide to Senate Majority Whip Richard J. Durbin said. The Illinois Democrat is chairman of the Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights and Human Rights, which will evaluate the controversial self-defense laws that are now on the books in at least 22 states.

ATF Nominee Faces Trouble as Background Check Funding Prospects Uncertain

Gun control supporters made progress in both chambers this week, as a Senate committee advanced a nominee to become the first permanent director of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives in seven years and a House panel approved a significant funding increase to improve background checks on gun sales.

Both of those efforts, however, still have a long way to go before advocates — who have clamored for tougher gun policies since the December school shooting in Connecticut — can declare victory.

Obama's D.C. Circuit Picks Likely to Prompt GOP Outcry

President Barack Obama Tuesday nominated a slate of judges to the Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia, an aggressive move that is likely to spark swift resistance from Senate Republicans who say the court is underworked and does not need additional judges.

Obama announced his plans to fill all three vacancies on the 11-seat appeals court during a morning news conference in the Rose Garden.

Old Objections Hang Over New Push for Media Shield Law

Bipartisan momentum is building for legislation that would give reporters new legal protections from government authorities who want them to reveal their confidential sources. But it’s far from clear whether the effort can overcome the objections that derailed similar bills in the Senate in 2007 and 2009.

Reps. Ted Poe, R-Texas, and John Conyers Jr., D-Mich., appeared with a group of lawmakers from both parties Wednesday to announce growing House support for “media shield” legislation (HR 1962) that would create a judicial process to ensure that reporters are not compelled to identify their sources unless certain conditions are met. The conditions include requiring government investigators to prove that “the public interest in compelling disclosure outweighs the public interest in gathering or disseminating news or information.”

In AP Case, Little Evidence DOJ Broke the Law

Did the Justice Department break the law when it secretly reviewed the phone records of more than 20 Associated Press reporters and editors? Many legal experts aren’t ready to go that far.

Media representatives and members of Congress contend that the department crossed a line when it seized records of personal and professional calls by AP staff. DOJ is believed to have been attempting to learn the identity of one or more government officials who leaked classified information that the wire service published in a May 2012 story about terrorist activity in Yemen.

ATF Nominee Faces Retaliation Inquiry

An independent government watchdog is probing allegations that President Barack Obama’s nominee to lead the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, B. Todd Jones, improperly retaliated against a whistle-blower while working in his current job as a federal prosecutor in Minnesota.

The investigation by the Office of Special Counsel is the latest complication surrounding Jones’ nomination to lead the ATF, a 5,000-employee law enforcement agency tasked with regulating the nation’s firearms industry. Obama nominated Jones on Jan. 16 as part of his broader plan to address gun violence following the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut.

Gun Legislation Fate Rests With Few

Advocates are frantically lobbying a small and rapidly shrinking list of undecided senators from both parties who control the fate of the most ambitious gun control legislation to reach the floor in nearly 20 years.

Senate leaders spent Monday quietly working to set up a vote later this week on the proposal, which would require background checks for all private firearms sales over the Internet and at gun shows. Current law requires background checks only for commercial gun sales made through licensed dealers.

Five Gun Amendments to Watch

With the Senate voting comfortably Thursday to take up its most ambitious gun control legislation in nearly two decades, all eyes turn to the “open amendment process” that Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., has promised.

Senators who advocate gun control will try to add much tougher provisions to curb firearms and ammunition. But pro-gun senators will attempt to gut the legislation (S 649) with amendments backed by the National Rifle Association.

Manchin, Toomey Prepare to Unveil Gun Deal

A bipartisan group of Senate negotiators signaled Tuesday night that it has reached a deal in principle on expanding background checks to include more gun sales, in what was widely seen as the major sticking point on the biggest gun control legislation to reach the floor since 1994.

Sens. Joe Manchin III, D-W.Va., and Patrick J. Toomey, R-Pa., said they would hold a news conference at 11 a.m. Wednesday to discuss the details of the tentative deal, which was reached with the support of Sen. Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y., and could entice a significant number of other lawmakers to sign on. Schumer told reporters that some details still needed to be worked out but that “we’re closer than we’ve ever been.”

Reid Kicks Off Gun Debate With Emotional Swipe at Republicans

Majority Leader Harry Reid issued an emotional plea as he launched debate Monday on the most sweeping gun control legislation to reach the Senate floor in nearly two decades. But fundamental questions remain, including what the bill’s final language will be and whether Republicans can block the debate from proceeding.

The legislation (S 649) would require background checks on nearly all gun sales, impose tough new criminal penalties on firearms traffickers and authorize new funding for school security improvements.

Graham Finds Obama Budget Plans 'Somewhat Encouraging'

Sen. Lindsey Graham said Sunday that President Barack Obama is “showing a little bit of leg” by proposing a budget that includes cuts to entitlement programs, a concession that Republicans have long demanded.

“The president’s showing a little bit of leg here. This is somewhat encouraging,” the South Carolina Republican said on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” referring to the White House’s announcement that Obama’s budget would for the first time propose cuts to Social Security and Medicare, even though Democrats have strongly opposed such cuts in the past.

Immigration Bill 'On Track' for End of Week, Schumer Says

Sen. Charles E. Schumer said Sunday that a bipartisan group of eight senators is “on track” to introduce comprehensive immigration legislation by the end of this week, despite recent “kerfuffles” in its negotiations and competing items on the congressional agenda.

“I think we’re doing very well,” the New York Democrat said on CBS’ “Face the Nation.” “We hope that we can have a bipartisan agreement among the eight of us on comprehensive immigration reform by the end of this week.”

GOP Guns Filibuster Faces Bipartisan Opposition

White House adviser Dan Pfeiffer on Sunday said a group of Senate Republicans would go back on their word to the families of Newtown, Conn., if they choose to filibuster gun control legislation that is set to come to the floor this week.

Meanwhile, Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., also called on the group to stand down and allow gun-related votes to occur.