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Congressional Hits and Misses: Week of Jan. 12, 2015

Even with party retreats last week, members still found time to recognize illegitimate children, debate NFL rules and bake cookies in the House chamber.

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Roll Call Presents: The 2015 State of the Union Promo

Join Roll Call at 8:45 p.m. on Tuesday, Jan. 20 for the 2015 State of the Union, streaming live at rollcall.com and featuring member interviews as well as analysis from Roll Call editors and reporters.

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Democrat Laments Abortion Bill Co-Sponsoring Debacle

Co-sponsoring a bill in Congress doesn't really mean all that much. But — maybe — it ought to mean a member has agreed to sign on, and will actually sign. At least, that's the argument Washington Democrat Adam Smith made on the House floor Wednesday. Smith took to the House podium to lambaste co-sponsorship practices after he was accidentally listed as a co-signer of GOP legislation, authored by Tennessee Republican Diane Black, that would prohibit certain funds to abortion clinics. Smith says he never consented to being listed as a co-sponsor — and first found out about the mishap after a pro-life group started praising him. "I just rise about a particular issue that happened to me, and I'm sure has happened to other members that you might not be aware of," Smith said on the floor Wednesday. "Other members can sign you on to a piece of legislation without your consent."

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Boehner Quotes Obama 22 Times on Immigration Action

In a last-minute effort urging lawmakers to support a Homeland Security spending bill blocking President Barack Obama's immigration orders, Speaker John A. Boehner, in a rare floor speech, quoted 22 examples of Obama saying he did not have the authority to take action to change immigration laws during a seven-minute speech. "Today I rise, and the House rises, to support and defend our constitution," Boehner said. "We do not take this action lightly, but simply, there is no alternative. ... This executive overreach is an affront to the rule of law and to the constitution itself." Lawmakers voted 236-191 to pass the spending measure.

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McConnell Highlights Items Ripe for Compromise

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell opened his weekly news conference Tuesday touting agenda items ready for "bipartisan progress" following an earlier meeting with the White House, including Trade Promotion Authority, cybersecurity and an Authorization for Use of Military Force in the fight against the Islamic State.

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21 Guantánamo Protesters Arrested in the Capitol

Nearly two dozen protesters from "Witness Against Torture," a group dedicated to closing the detention facility at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, were arrested in the Capitol Building Monday afternoon, after demonstrating in the Senate gallery and the Capitol Visitor Center. According to the U.S. Capitol Police, 21 protesters were arrested Monday: 11 in the Senate and 10 in the CVC. All of them were arrested for demonstrating in an area where it is unlawful to demonstrate. The protesters in the Senate gallery were arrested after causing a disturbance as Senate Minority Whip Richard J. Durbin, D-Ill., was speaking on the floor. The protesters began yelling, "U.S. torture, it's official! Prosecute now!" during his speech, halting action on the floor for about a minute and a half. Freshman Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., was presiding at the time.

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Congressional Hits and Misses: Week of Jan. 5, 2015

Lawmakers kicked off 2015 lobbying for 7-Elevens, sparing grandmas from purgatory and taking their talents to South Beach.

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Boehner Not Ruling Out Gas Tax Increase

A renewed push by some Democrats for an increase in the federal gas tax to replenish the Highway Trust Fund drew a frosty reception Thursday from Speaker John A. Boehner — though the Ohio Republican stopped short of ruling the idea out. Both Boehner and the top-ranking Democrat in the House, Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, were asked Thursday about an increase in the 18.4 cent-per-gallon federal gas tax after the National Republican Campaign Committee sought to make a gas tax increase a political liability for Democrats. "I’ve never voted to raise the gas tax. Funding the highway bill is critically important, it is a priority for this year. How we will fund it — we’re going to have to work our way through it,” Boehner said at his weekly news conference.

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Boehner Fires Back, Says He's Not 'Spineless'

Speaker John A. Boehner took to the press conference podium Thursday to set the record straight on a line of attack he seems to be hearing from conservatives: That he has no spine. "It does pain me to be described as 'spineless' or a 'squish,'" a somewhat-jocular Boehner said. "I tell you what pains me the most is when they describe me as 'the establishment,'" Boehner said. The Ohio Republican described himself as "the most anti-establishment speaker we've ever had," and he enumerated some of his credentials for the title.

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Pelosi Open to Increase in Gas Tax

Amid reports of Republicans being open to increasing the gas tax, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi was cautiously supportive of raising the tax to pay for transportation spending while pushing back against a "show-biz" proposal of lowering income taxes in exchange. At her weekly news conference Thursday, Pelosi said the decrease in gasoline prices is already a tax break for consumers. "I do think that if there's ever going to be an opportunity to raise the gas tax the time when gas prices are so low, oil prices are so low, is the time to do it," Pelosi said. The tax, which has not been raised since 1993, provides most of the funding for the Highway Trust Fund.

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Pelosi Reacts to Boxer Retirement Announcement

Sen. Barbara Boxer's announcement Thursday that she will not run for re-election in 2016 took fellow California Democrat and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi by surprise. Upon learning the news at her weekly news conference, Pelosi stood in silence, collected herself and praised Boxer as “one of the most unselfish politicians I have ever known.” ”She called me and said she wanted to talk to me personally,” Pelosi said. “I just thought she wanted to have dinner tonight.”

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Barbara Boxer to Retire

California Sen. Barbara Boxer announced Thursday she will not run for re-election in 2016, opening up an attractive seat for ambitious fellow Democrats. Boxer made the announcement in a video posted to her campaign website, in which she conducted a mock interview with her grandson Zach. "I am never going to retire. The work is too important. But I will not be running for the Senate in 2016," she said.

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McConnell: Congress Will Fund Department of Homeland Security

While discussing how the Senate would combat President Barack Obama's immigration actions and the impact of Wednesday's terrorist attack in Paris, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said "at the end of the day" Congress would fund the Department of Homeland Security, which runs out of money on Feb. 28. The DHS, which was funded by a short-term continuing resolution in December, has become the focal point for congressional Republicans trying to halt Obama's executive orders on immigration issued in 2014.

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McConnell Doubles Down on Keystone, Says Obama Will Not Set Agenda

Senate GOP leadership reaffirmed its commitment to voting on a bill to build the Keystone XL pipeline during a weekly news conference Wednesday, adding that President Barack Obama's veto threat on Keystone legislation could give someone "whiplash." "It seems with every new day, we have a new veto threat from the president," Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said. "I think it's interesting to note, this is exactly the same bill that was before the Senate last month, when the then-majority was trying to save Sen. [Mary L.] Landrieu in a runoff, and I don't recall the president mentioning at that point he would veto the bill.”

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Boehner Elected to Third Term as Speaker

In a dramatic vote in which Republican dissidents staged yet another unsuccessful coup attempt, John A. Boehner was elected to a third term as speaker of the House Tuesday. Boehner won re-election with 216 of the 408 votes cast, as 25 Republicans voted for someone else or voted present in an act of protest. Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi received 164 Democratic votes, with four members of her party voting for someone other than the California Democrat. In his remarks to the full House after retaking the gavel, Boehner expressed hope for a new era of cooperation and productivity. “They say nothing is going to be accomplished here, divisions are greater than ever. … Skepticism of our government is healthy and in our time quite understandable. But one problem with saying, ‘it can’t be done,’ is that it already has been done, or at least started.”

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Following Workout Injury, Reid Addresses 114th Congress

Following a workout accident last week, Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid addressed the 114th Congress from his Washington, D.C., home on Tuesday, joking about his injury while saying Senate Democrats would "fulfill expectations" of fighting for the middle class. "As most people know, I fought for a couple of years. After any one of those fights, I never looked like I do now," Reid said. "However, I didn't get this black eye by spurring with Manny [Pacquiao], by challenging Floyd Mayweather, I didn't go bull riding, I wasn't riding a motorcycle — I was exercising in my new home.”

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Congressional Hits and Misses: Best of 2014

From food to Janet Jackson and from mic drops to outer space, Heard on the Hill presents the best gaffes, insults and soundbites from Capitol Hill you just had to see one more time.

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Lawmakers Offer Sobering Holiday Message

Thinking about hitting the road after knocking back a whole mess of eggnog? This Greek chorus of sitting politicos won’t hear of it. This cacophony of concern is brought to you by the nearly three dozen lawmakers who cut anti-drunk driving spots for the Beer Institute this holiday season.

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Stalemate: How an Immigration Rewrite Died in the 113th Congress

The 113th Congress began with an overhaul of the nation's immigration laws seeming likely, if not inevitable. But despite an overwhelming bipartisan Senate vote to send a broad measure to the House, the issue died by the time Congress adjourned. Here’s how it happened.

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Congressional Hits and Misses: Farewell to the 113th Congress

Before leaving for the holidays, lawmakers paid tribute to one another recalling "spawned" marriages while thanking their "awful" staff.

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December 16 Senate GOP Leadership Press Conference

Incoming Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell discussed the remaining Senate schedule for the 113th Congress and the Keystone XL Pipeline at his weekly news conference Dec. 16.

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McConnell Puts Keystone First on 2015 Agenda

The incoming Senate majority leader is putting approval of the Keystone XL pipeline project first on his 2015 agenda, telling reporters Tuesday a bill sponsored by Republican John Hoeven of North Dakota would lead off the floor schedule. "We'll be starting next year with a job-creating bill that enjoys significant bipartisan support," McConnell said of the pipeline legislation. "It will be open for amendment. We'll hope that senators on both sides will offer energy-related amendments, but there will be no effort to try to ... micromanage the amendment process."

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Michele Bachmann Delivers Farewell Address

Rep. Michele Bachmann gave her farewell speech on the House floor on Dec. 9, repeatedly talking about the “privilege” of serving as the first female Republican elected from Minnesota, while thanking her supporters, staff and congressional employees for their service.

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Congressional Hits and Misses: Week of Dec. 8

With holiday jet fumes in the air, Congress spent its final full week of 2014 on "The Colbert Report," strategizing for bar fights and telling their favorite Dick Cheney quail hunting stories.

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Pot Protesters Create Traffic Jam for Congressman

The pro-pot group protesting Congress' intervention into local marijuana policy did not cause an uproar on Capitol grounds Wednesday night, but they did clash with a congressman. Rep. Emanuel Cleaver II, riding with his chief of staff in a black sedan, encountered a few of the most antagonistic individuals on Maryland Avenue Northeast. About two dozen demonstrators, mostly associated with the DC Cannabis Campaign, were blocking traffic following a brief protest at The Heritage Foundation's nearby headquarters. When the Missouri Democrat's car pulled up to the intersection with D Street Northeast, a few protesters refused to let him pass. Cleaver leaned out the passenger side window and yelled that he had "somewhere" to be, but one man waving a 'Legalize' flag stood in front of the car.

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CIA Director: 'Unknowable' if Torture Program Led to Useful Intelligence

CIA Director John O. Brennan maintained his objections about a Senate Intelligence Committee report on the agency's post-9/11 interrogation program during a rare news conference Thursday, saying the use of enhanced techniques produced useful intelligence while adding it is impossible to know if that was because of those techniques. "The cause and effect relationship between the use of EITs and useful information subsequently provided by the detainees is in my view unknowable," Brennan said. Brennan also said he was troubled by the study's findings that the CIA for years misled the Congress, the White House and the public about the brutality of interrogation techniques, their effectiveness and how often they were used. "The study's contention that we repeatedly and intentionally misled the public and the rest of the U.S. government rests on the committee's view that detainees subjected to EITs did not produce useful intelligence, a point on which we still fundamentally disagree."

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Pelosi: Members 'Blackmailed' on 'Cromnibus'

In a scathing floor speech on the House floor, Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., defied the White House's call to pass the "cromnibus," saying she was "enormously disappointed" with the administration's call to vote for the bill. "I was so really heartbroken ... to see the taint that was placed on this valuable appropriations bill from on high," Pelosi said about the spending bill riders related to Wall Street regulation and political donation limits. "So here we are in the House, being blackmailed to vote for an appropriations bill ... this is a ransom, this is blackmail. You don't get a bill unless Wall Street gets its taxpayer coverage."

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Nail-Biting Vote Moves 'Cromnibus' Closer to House Passage

The product of hours and hours of hard-fought negotiations could be lost Thursday if House Democrats decide, just hours before the government is to due to shut down, to band together and rebuff a trillion-dollar federal spending bill over two so-called "poison pill" policy riders. Every Democrat voted with 16 Republicans against the rule to advance the "cromnibus," with the GOP lawmakers voicing discontent over the lack of explicit language in the legislation to prohibit President Barack Obama from carrying out his executive orders on immigration. At a certain point, the votes were tied. At the very end, Republican leaders pressured two members to vote "yes," bringing the final tally to 214-212.

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Boehner: 'We're Going To Be Here Until Christmas' if 'Cromnibus' Doesn't Pass

The "cromnibus" came together with a last-minute backroom deal between Republicans and Democrats and plenty of lawmakers are upset — including Speaker John A. Boehner. "This is exactly the way I don't want to do business," Boehner said Thursday, just hours before the House was slated to vote on the funding package. "Ideally, we would have been able to do this work one bill at a time." Boehner later gave members the hard sell on why they should vote for the cromnibus Thursday. "If we don't get finished today, we're going to be here until Christmas."

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Udall: CIA 'Lying' About Torture Report, Brennan Should Resign

One day after the Senate Intelligence Committee released a report detailing the use of torture by the CIA during the George W. Bush administration, a chief critic of the CIA's tactics said the agency "lied" about the program's effectiveness, while calling on current CIA Director John O. Brennan to resign. During a nearly 50-minute floor speech Wednesday, Sen. Mark Udall, citing a 2009 review conducted by then-CIA Director Leon Panetta, said the committee's findings aligned with the Panetta review and charged that Brennan and the CIA "misrepresented" findings to the public from the Senate and CIA reports. "I've reviewed this document, and it is as significant and relevant as it gets," Udall said. "Director Brennan and the CIA today are continuing to willfully provide inaccurate information and misrepresent the efficacy of torture. In other words, the CIA is lying.”

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Kerry Suggests White House Seeking Broad AUMF for ISIS War

Secretary of State John Kerry said Tuesday the Obama administration wants Congress to approve an Authorization for Use Military Force that would specifically target Islamic State extremists — but without geographic limitations or restrictions on how the military might use ground forces. In an appearance before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Kerry emphasized that President Barack Obama still has no intention of deploying ground combat troops but doesn't think the Senate should “preemptively bind the hands of our commander in chief” in responding to unexpected contingencies in combating the Islamic State, also known as ISIS or ISIL. Kerry's testimony suggests Obama will be seeking broader authority than congressional Democrats — and some Republicans — will be willing to approve.

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Issa to Gruber: 'Are You Stupid?'

Jonathan Gruber, the Obamacare consultant who has become a lightning rod for critics of the health care law for his comments about “the stupidity of the American voter,” apologized again on Capitol Hill Tuesday. Republican Chairman Darrell Issa, R-Calif., in opening remarks, called the comments “deceitful,” before asking the Massachusetts Institute of Technology economist who helped write the Affordable Care Act if he was stupid. "Does MIT employ stupid people?" Issa said. "Not to my knowledge," Gruber replied.

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Senate GOP Slams CIA Torture Report

Senate Republican leadership slammed a report released Tuesday detailing torture techniques used by the CIA during the George W. Bush administration, saying the program saved American lives and the report would endanger Americans abroad.

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Reid Outlines Remaining Senate Schedule, Again Warns of Weekend Work

As final preparations seemed to be underway to pass the “cromnibus” funding most of the government for the rest of the fiscal year — and avoiding a shutdown — Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid made one more warning about the session extending past Thursday. “The federal government’s going to run out of money in two days. There’s no reason the government should shut down, and we’re ready to pass a yearlong spending bill to take care of this,” the Nevada Democrat said. “There’s still factions within the Republican party who want extreme measures. You’ve all heard them, just like I have.” “For the extremists within the Republican Party … there’s always a reason to take a poke at the president. If it’s not one thing, it’s some other thing. The American people certainly shouldn’t be facing another government shutdown, but I guess that’s what we’re facing,” Reid said, noting that almost 100 riders had been at play in the process of crafting the catch-all spending bill. Reid said he would back a very short-term continuing resolution, should it become necessary to get through procedural maneuvering and finish final details.

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McCain: CIA Torture Policies 'Stained Our National Honor'

As the Senate Intelligence Committee’s CIA torture report roiled Capitol Hill Tuesday, Sen. John McCain framed the argument as one of moral clarity, all the while bumping up against his party leaders. “I rise in support of the release, the long-delayed release of the Senate Intelligence Committee’s summarized, unclassified review of the so-called enhanced interrogation techniques that were employed by the previous administration to extract information from captured terrorists,” the Arizona Republican said on the Senate floor. “I believe the American people have a right, indeed responsibility, to know what was done in their name, how these practices did or did not serve our interests, and how they comported with our most important values.” McCain, who spent five-and-a-half years in a North Vietnamese prison during the Vietnam War and endured unspeakable torture, is virtually unassailable on the issue. His comments put him back in the maverick role, at least in relation to the chamber’s internal politics, that has long defined his congressional career.

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Feinstein Explains Why CIA Was Not Interviewed for Torture Report

Senate Intelligence Chairman Dianne Feinstein faced criticism Tuesday from CIA Director John O. Brennan for not interviewing CIA officers before the release of the committee's CIA torture report, which Brennan said "would have provided members with valuable context." Feinstein pushed back on this assertion during an hour-long floor speech, saying she was "confident" in the accuracy of the committee report while citing a 2009 Justice Department review of the interrogation techniques used during the George W. Bush administration, which Feinstein said deterred CIA employees from speaking with the committee.

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Feinstein on Senate CIA Torture Report: 'Never Again'

Senate Intelligence Chairwoman Dianne Feinstein unveiled the executive summary of her committee's much-anticipated report on acts of torture used by the CIA Tuesday. "This document examines the CIA's secret overseas detention of at least 119 individuals and the use of coercive interrogation techniques — in some cases amounting to torture," the California Democrat said in a statement announcing the release. Feinstein said on the Senate floor there might never be a good time to release the report, but it is important to do so. The release of the report, Feinstein said, must change how the CIA works and prevent any future use of torture. The release of the report, Feinstein said, must change how the CIA works and prevent any future use of torture. "Never again," she said.

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Reid on Senate CIA Report: Torture 'Got Us Nothing'

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid discussed the release of the Senate Intelligence Committee's report on torture used by the CIA on the floor Tuesday, saying torture had no benefits and likening the report to the release of the Pentagon Papers and reports on Abu Ghraib and the Iran-Contra affair. "It got us nothing but a bad name," Reid said. "What took place, the torture program, was not in keeping with our country.”

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Congressional Hits and Misses: Week of Dec. 1

Congress kicked off the final month of the year brining turkeys, plugging favorite movies and crying on the House floor.

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McConnell in 2013: No Reason for GOP Senate to Reverse 'Nuclear Option'

With Senate Republicans meeting Tuesday to debate how to handle the filibuster in the 114th Congress following last year's "nuclear option," Roll Call looks at a June 2013 speech from Minority Leader Mitch McConnell threatening to maintain a reduced threshold for advancing legislation if Democrats changed Senate rules. “There’s not a doubt in my mind that if the majority breaks the rules of the Senate to change the rules of the Senate with regard to nominations, the next majority will do it for everything,” McConnell said on the floor on June 18, 2013. “I wouldn’t be able to argue, a year and a half from now if I were the majority leader, to my colleagues that we shouldn’t enact our legislative agenda with a simple 51 votes, having seen what the previous majority just did. I mean there would be no rational basis for that.”

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McConnell: New GOP Senators Not in 'Make a Point' Wing of Party

In an exclusive interview with CQ Roll Call on Dec. 5, incoming Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell had high praise for the incoming class of majority-makers. "I always think there is sort of two kinds of people in politics: those that want to make a point and those that want to make a difference," McConnell said. "And I think we've just added 12 new members to the 'make a difference' caucus. And I think we, you know, have some occasional differences over tactics, but I think we are gonna have a broad support within our conference for right-of-center progress."

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McConnell Manages Expectations on Obamacare Repeal

In an exclusive interview with CQ Roll Call on Dec. 5, incoming Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said while Republicans would work to roll back President Barack Obama’s health care law, opponents of the law should be realistic about a full repeal. "Number one: We certainly will have a vote on proceeding to a bill to repeal Obamacare. … It is a statement to the obvious, however, that Obama — of Obamacare — is the president of the United States," he said of the job with the veto power.

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McConnell Plans to Keep Committee Seats in New Congress

In an exclusive interview with CQ Roll Call on Dec. 5, incoming Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said he intended to keep his seat on the Appropriations Committee in the 114th Congress. “I have not been active in committee work since I became leader. But I think it is to the advantage of my state to have the opportunity to come to meetings occasionally and to vote in person, rather than just by proxy,” McConnell said.

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Pelosi on Hillary: 'When She Runs, She Will Win'

In an exclusive interview with CQ Roll Call on Dec. 5, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi was optimistic about the 2016 presidential election, saying by then the country could see its first female president. "Let me say this about Hillary [Rodham] Clinton: When she runs, she will win. And when she wins, she'll go to the White House as one of the most prepared people in modern history to go there," Pelosi said, stopping just short of an endorsement.

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Pelosi: Democrats Won't Be 'Irrelevant' Next Year

In an exclusive interview with CQ Roll Call on Dec. 5, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi insisted she doesn't gloat when House Republicans can't shore up the votes among their own members to pass any number of critical bills, and it's Democrats who get to swoop in and call themselves the heroes. "I would rather they did the responsible thing so we wouldn’t have to bail them out every time," the California Democrat quipped of her GOP counterparts. "I don’t think anyone is irrelevant. We have leverage if they don’t have the votes," she said. "They have leverage because they know we will be responsible. And that allows them to be irresponsible to a certain extent."

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Pelosi on Eric Garner Case: 'All Lives Matter'

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi opened Friday's news conference with a statement about recent grand jury decisions in the Michael Brown and Eric Garner cases, expressing her support for peaceful protests and for President Barack Obama's response to both cases. "Our thoughts, our prayers, our hopes are with the families," Pelosi said. "I support President Obama's recent call for measures to increase trust between law enforcement and communities and Attorney General [Eric H.] Holder's call for federal investigations. It's very sad. All lives matter.”

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Pelosi Warns GOP Against 'Destructive' Riders in Spending Bill

Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi is still keeping her powder dry when it comes to staking out a position on the House GOP's fiscal 2015 spending bill, due to be revealed on Monday. The California Democrat said no policy riders currently on the negotiating table were "deal breakers" on their own. "Let’s look at the full package," she said. But the riders currently being discussed, she said, were cause for concern among members of her caucus.

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Obama Nominates Ashton Carter for Defense Secretary (Full Speech)

President Barack Obama announced his nomination of Ashton Carter to be the next Secretary of Defense at a Friday morning news conference from the White House Roosevelt Room.

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Gowdy Hammers Administration Over Immigration Action

Rep. Trey Gowdy, R-S.C., criticized the White House for its use of prosecutorial discretion during a House Judiciary Committee hearing Tuesday on President Barack Obama's executive orders on immigration. In a heated exchange with Marielena Hincapié, the executive director of the National Immigration Law Center, Gowdy challenged Hincapié on the limits of Obama's prosecutorial discretion under the law while also warning Hincapié to not link Republican concerns over immigration to race.

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Jay Rockefeller Gives Senate Farewell Address

Jay Rockefeller, the five-term Democratic senator from West Virginia, gave his farewell address on the Senate floor Thursday where he expressed his love for the Senate, warned about the "cruelty of perpetual campaigns" and thanked his family, staff and colleagues.

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