Niels Lesniewski

Ben Sasse presses prison bureau director on Jeffrey Epstein death, guards sleeping on the job
‘It’s about the fact that that bastard wasn’t able to testify against his other co-conspirators’

On the day that two federal correctional officers were charged in connection with failing to properly monitor sex trafficker Jeffrey Epstein, who committed suicide in a New York jail cell, Sen. Ben Sasse had particularly strong words for the director of the Federal Bureau of Prisons.

“As alleged, the defendants had a duty to ensure the safety and security of federal inmates in their care at the Metropolitan Correctional Center. Instead, they repeatedly failed to conduct mandated checks on inmates, and lied on official forms to hide their dereliction,” Geoffrey S. Berman, the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York, said in a statement announcing the indictments.

Road ahead: Impeachment suspense drowns out government funding debate
There’s a full schedule of open hearings at the House Intelligence Committee

Seldom does an imminent deadline to avoid a government shutdown fly under the radar, but that might happen this week with most eyes on impeachment hearings in the House.

Congress will need to pass another continuing resolution to keep the government funded past Thursday, as leaders of the House and Senate Appropriations panels look to finalize subcommittee allocations for the delayed fiscal 2020 bills, in conjunction with top leadership and representatives from the administration.

Democrats protest, but Senate confirms Steven Menashi to federal appeals court
Nominee for Second Circuit described as ‘bottom crawler’ by Democratic leader

The man Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer described as a “bottom crawler” was confirmed Thursday to a lifetime appointment on the federal appeals court based in his home state of New York.

Schumer and other Democrats have opposed many of President Donald Trump’s nominees to be federal judges that have been called up for votes by Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky. But the opposition to Steven J. Menashi has been more voracious than for most.

One of Government Publishing Office’s most important customers might soon be in charge
Hugh Halpern has confirmation hearing to be GPO director

Not every nominee shows up for a confirmation hearing ready to show off his own personal copy of the House Manual. Then again, not every nominee is Hugh Halpern.

Halpern, the longtime Republican staff director of the House Rules Committee and subsequently director of floor operations for Speaker Paul D. Ryan of Wisconsin, is President Donald Trump’s nominee to run the Government Publishing Office.

Senators move ahead with enhancing Olympics oversight
Commerce Committee advanced bill after debate about role of Congress

Senators moved ahead with an effort to enhance congressional oversight of U.S. participation in the Olympics on Wednesday, part of an ongoing response to recent sexual abuse scandals in sports.

The voice vote by the Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee to advance an amended version of a bipartisan bill came despite concerns raised by the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee.

Trump administration shows up to USA Freedom hearing without answers to key questions about data collection
Mike Lee threatens monthly hearings after Justice Department remains not responsive to letter

Senators expressed their displeasure Wednesday with the Trump administration’s inability to answer questions about the National Security Agency’s collection of call data records at a Judiciary Committee hearing. 

And one senator went so far as to suggest monthly hearings on foreign intelligence surveillance powers.

Impeachment threatens to freeze Democratic presidential race
Six senators seeking nomination would have to sit in Washington during trial

The impeachment inquiry of President Donald Trump is threatening to freeze the Democratic presidential contest in place, at least for the coming weeks, and possibly months.

A year out from the general election, the greatest X-factor for the field of candidates seeking to challenge the president might just be how the impeachment process plays out, and if it makes any new stars in the Democratic field along the way, or takes out any of the front-runners.

Road ahead: Impeachment to lead headlines, even with House away
Senate returns Tuesday to continue confirming judges

The House is not in session this week, and yet there might still be more attention on that side of the Capitol, with House committees led by the Intelligence panel continuing work on the impeachment inquiry.

The committees are seeking testimony from three officials Monday, but it is not yet clear who, if any, will appear for their scheduled closed-door depositions.

What happens if a Senate seat opens during an impeachment trial
With the announced early retirement of Georgia Sen. Johnny Isakson, it is a possibility

What happens if a newly chosen senator gets thrown into the middle of an impeachment trial?

Ask Sen. Chris Coons.

Romney, Manchin want new rescue committees to address trust fund solvency
Bipartisan, bicameral effort calls for setting up joint committees

Sen. Mitt Romney is leading a new bipartisan effort to try to force lawmakers to come together to address looming funding shortfalls in several government trust funds.

In a draft bill shared first with CQ Roll Call, a bipartisan contingent led by the Utah Republican wants to establish “Rescue Committees” to write legislation providing 75 years of solvency for trust funds identified in a report to Congress from the Treasury Department. Examples of funds that would likely qualify include Social Security and the Highway Trust Fund.

Road ahead: More impeachment depositions, plus Turkey legislation and a Boeing hearing
House will also consider a Grand Canyon protection bill

The impeachment inquiry against President Donald Trump will again take center stage at the Capitol this week, though there will also be legislative push-back in the House against Turkey and its incursion into Syria against the Kurds.

The House Intelligence, Oversight and Foreign Affairs committees have another full docket of depositions scheduled this week as part of their impeachment inquiry.

Campus notebook: Digitizing Congress, a flu shot shortage and spotting an owl
Plus fall treats and process for reviewing franked mail is entering the 21st century

There was good news this week for serious Congress nerds everywhere, especially those without access to a massive academic library.

The Government Publishing Office and the Law Library of Congress announced a plan Tuesday to digitize the entirety of the Congressional serial set — bound volumes of legislative reports and related documents dating all the way back to 1817.

A portrait unveiling for ‘Alaskan of the century,’ Uncle Ted Stevens
Senators reminisce about the late Alaska senator and his legendary salmon fishing trips

Some senators are better fishermen than others.

When senior lawmakers gathered with many of their former colleagues to unveil the leadership portrait of former Senate President Pro Tempore Ted Stevens on Wednesday, it was inevitable that there would be plenty of discussion of the legendary salmon fishing trips hosted by the late Republican from Alaska.

Rare, and unapologetic, bipartisan congressional rebuke for Trump on Syria
Mitch McConnell, Nancy Pelosi, Lindsey Graham, Liz Cheney all part with president

“I think Lindsey should focus on Judiciary,” President Donald Trump said Wednesday when asked about criticism from South Carolina Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham of his decision to effectively side with Turkey over the Kurdish population of Syria.

Graham, who is often an ally of the president, was comparing Trump’s move to pull back U.S. forces supporting the Kurds to the Obama administration policy of withdrawal from Iraq. The senator is chairman of both the Judiciary Committee and the Appropriations subcommittee responsible for funding the State Department.

Senate Intelligence Committee in focus on C-SPAN and the big screen this fall
Don’t mess with the intel panel

It’s going to be a big couple of months for the Senate Intelligence Committee, both on Capitol Hill and at the box office.

Chairman Richard M. Burr and ranking Democrat Mark Warner find themselves once again at the epicenter of the biggest political story in Washington, tasked with leading the Senate’s review of President Donald Trump’s interactions with Ukraine that seem all but certain to result in impeachment by the House.

African Americans top targets of 2016 Russian info warfare, Senate panel finds
Panel says campaigns, media outlets need to verify source of viral social media posts before sharing

The Senate Intelligence Committee has confirmed the extent of the Russian government’s expertise at exploiting racial divisions in America.

Among the key takeaways of the second volume of the committee’s study of Russia’s efforts to interfere in the 2016 presidential election is the extent to which minorities were targeted.

Bernie Sanders cancels campaign schedule after heart procedure
Spokesman says presidential candidate had stents installed after doctors found blockage in artery

Sen. Bernie Sanders is recovering after having heart stents installed, canceling his presidential campaign events until further notice.

Jeff Weaver, a senior adviser to the Democratic presidential campaign of the Vermont independent, made the announcement of the medical procedure.

McConnell says he can’t completely prevent an impeachment trial
Duration, however, is ‘a whole different matter’

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell reiterated on Monday that he is bound by Senate rules to take up articles of impeachment if they are presented by the House.

“Under the Senate rules, we’re required to take it up if the House does go down that path, and we’ll follow the Senate rules,” McConnell said. “It’s a Senate rule related to impeachment that would take 67 votes to change.”

Sen. Rob Portman promotes Kevin Smith to chief of staff
Mark Isakowitz will be returning to the private sector

Sen. Rob Portman has a new chief of staff.

The Ohio Republican is elevating Kevin Smith, his deputy chief of staff and communications director, to the top job in his Senate office. Smith has worked for Portman for about three years and has been a familiar face on Capitol Hill, having previously served as communications director to Speaker John A. Boehner.

Senate Intelligence goes slow, seeks meeting with whistleblower
Panel met behind closed doors with acting intelligence director, inspector general

The Senate Intelligence Committee is just getting started on a review and inquiry into the whistleblower complaint that has rocked Capitol Hill this week.

“We’ve had a very productive first day. There’s a lot that we have to learn to proceed forward, but it’s our intention to go through that process,” Chairman Richard M. Burr told reporters after a closed hearing with Acting Director of National Intelligence Joseph Maguire and the intelligence community’s inspector general, Michael Atkinson.