With Cancer Diagnosis, Senate’s Newest Work-Life Balance

Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., will stay on the job during her treatment for breast cancer. (Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

During a decade in national politics, Claire McCaskill has been a trailblazer several times. In 2006, she was the first woman elected to the Senate from Missouri. In 2008, the first senator to back Barack Obama for president. In 2012, the biggest upset winner among the many Democratic incumbents challenged by tea party Republicans. And almost three years ago, the first in Congress to endorse Hillary Clinton well before she started this presidential campaign.  

This week McCaskill stood apart again, becoming the first senator to announce she has breast cancer.  

Inside the Cruz and Rubio Ambassadorial Proxy War

Cruz and Rubio on Capitol Hill. (Photo By Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio aren’t only taking their campaigns onward to South Carolina. While the next Republican primary commands the public’s attention, both are also running for president by mounting quiet symbolic protests at American embassies around the world.  

A single senator has nearly unilateral ability to block any confirmation, whether he’s in the Capitol or on the hustings hundreds of miles away. The junior senators from Texas and Florida are using their power to place indefinite “holds” on diplomatic nominees, hoping to highlight their own foreign policies and their condemnations of President Barack Obama’s conduct of international affairs. Both campaign rivals have been pursuing the tactic since last year, yet another way they’re using similar approaches to advance their White House quests while leading their Senate lives. (Voting alike far more often than not during their three years together in Congress is the most obvious example of that.)  

Cruz and Rubio Differ in Style, Not So Much on Votes


Tuesday's New Hampshire primary is supposed to reveal if Ted Cruz has claimed a prime position on the “insurgent” side of the road and whether Marco Rubio has pushed to the front of the “establishment” lane.  

But the best empirical evidence from their senatorial records reveal that, while their styles of conservatism are undeniably different, they have nonetheless ended up taking the same positions on policy substance far more often than not. The votes they’ve cast suggest they’re close enough to touch across the white stripes symbolically dividing the GOP. During their three years together at the Capitol, Florida’s Rubio has voted according to President Barack Obama’s wishes only a relative handful of times more often than Texas’ Cruz, placing their cumulative presidential support scores during Obama’s second term in almost the same place — comfortably below the Senate Republican average.  

What One House GOP Retirement May Say About the Future

Is Ribble's retirement the canary in the calming for Republicans? (Photo By Bill Clark/Roll Call)

At first glance, the Reid Ribble retirement doesn’t appear headline-worthy. Yes, he is now among 16 House Republicans, half from tea party takeover class of 2010, to announce a voluntary departure at year’s end. But, no, that retirement roster is hardly extraordinary, and it’s little surprise that a decent number of those insurgent outsiders have concluded they’ve made their mark and can move on.  

Just below the surface, though, Ribble’s decision to abandon the congressional seat for northeastern Wisconsin looks like a canary in the coal mine’s warning about the future of the GOP. Since stepping aside as president of the family roofing business to win his first race for public office, Ribble has been one of the more iconoclastic members of the Republican Conference, and several of his unpredictable turns have ended up being harbingers of important story lines.  

Who'll Be First in Congress to Endorse Trump?

Sessions has been effusive in his praise for Trump. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

Of all Donald Trump’s curious unblemished records, this one will almost surely end pretty soon: At last one member of Congress will endorse him for president.  

As good a bet as any is that this signal move will come from Jeff Sessions, the junior Republican senator from Alabama.  

Blizzard Whiteout Buries Issue of Red Ink

CBO Director Keith Hall won't be testifying this week, as planned, about the rising budget deficit. (Photo By Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

One of the blizzard’s most important, if unintended, effects was keeping the federal budget deficit buried as a 2016 campaign issue.  

The return of a rising tide of red ink has been almost entirely overlooked by both parties’ candidates in the presidential race and the relatively few competitive contests for Congress. There was a chance that would change this week, when the head of the Congressional Budget Office was supposed to describe his very sobering assessment of the fiscal future in appearances before both congressional budget committees. Instead, after the snowstorm, his Tuesday testimony in the Senate and then Wednesday’s in the House were postponed indefinitely.  

Members Cast as Foils, if Not Spoilers, in Obama's Final SOTU

(Al Drago/CQ Roll Call)

“Please don’t get in the way” is one way of synthesizing Tuesday night’s message to Congress from President Barack Obama.  

On many of the big things that matter most, he asserted, he’s positioned to leave the country in much better shape than how he found it and how his would-be Republican successors describe it — tacitly urging the Hill’s GOP to resist legislative gamesmanship that while playing into presidential politics might crimp the hopeful trajectory of his final year.

Obama Preps Last Prime Time Address to Congress

Once more with feeling. Obama is preparing his last State of the Union Address. (CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Perhaps the surest prediction about the next State of the Union Address is that it’s going to be the last speech afforded that lofty title for fully two years.  

The second reliable forecast is that on the night of Jan. 12, President Barack Obama will take a non-traditional approach to his final annual appearance before a joint session of Congress. The first of those expectations is borne of modern precedent; the second comes from the White House itself.  

The Pelosification of Chuck Schumer

Schumer, left, is on his way to being the Republicans' new bogeyman. (Al Drago/CQ Roll Call)

For those whose lives revolve around the Capitol, the year’s final presidential debate offered two notable insights: Bashing the legislative process remains a pungent applause line, and Republicans may have found their newest liberal boogeyman.  

Put another way, all the morning-after assessments of how the candidates performed in Las Vegas overlooked two standouts of particular importance to the congressional class. One of the biggest losers Tuesday night was Congress itself. And one of the biggest winners was, of all people, Charles E. Schumer. The more serious development, if not for the Republican Party than for the future of a functioning democracy, was the way in which several of the second-tier candidates who have positioned themselves as proud outsiders decided it was time to tee-off on their more front-running rivals actually in the business of making federal policy.  

Silence Greets Pleas for War Authority

Jones says Congress is neglecting its constitutional duty on declaring war. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

"Politics makes strange bedfellows” is one of the oldest adages around. These days, the prospect of another war is making for some particularly strange bedfellows in the House.  

An extraordinarily bipartisan group of 35 members, hoping to benefit from the heightened attention on Congress in the session’s closing days, is pressing anew for a debate on authorizing the use of military force against the Islamic State. “Our fight isn't going away anytime soon, which is why it is high time Congress fulfills its constitutional duty and debates our role in the Middle East,” Walter B. Jones, the iconoclastic North Carolina Republican leading the effort, said in an impassioned floor speech Tuesday. Until members cast such a vote, he said, “I don't even think we have a right to criticize the president, quite frankly.”