scandalous

Bypassing the Senate, Cummings Has One More Career Fork Ahead

Cummings stays put in the House. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

The final career decision Elijah E. Cummings will probably ever make comes as welcome news for both Democrats who could become the next president — and not very comforting news for any of the Republicans who might get the job instead.  

When Cummings announced Tuesday that he would seek to remain as a Baltimore congressman, he ended (at nearly the last possible moment) almost a year of public pondering about running instead for Maryland’s open Senate seat.  

Bill Shuster Wants 'Like Father, Like Son' Moment

(Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

When negotiators on the highway and mass transit bill formally convened Wednesday, it took only a few minutes for them to cut their first deal: Rep. Bill Shuster was named chairman of the conference committee.  

The decision further cements the Pennsylvania Republican’s standing as one of the most prominent legislators of the year — and it raises the stakes for his performance in the next few weeks.  

The Ryan Rule: Whose Portrait Is Next?

From left, Pelosi, Rep. Eric Cantor, Boehner, and Hastert at Hastert's portrait unveiling in 2009. (CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Just days into the job, Speaker Paul D. Ryan has now made two decisions that deliver a powerful signal about how he’ll be the institutional steward of the House.  

First, by declaring he’ll keep sleeping in his office , and now by having J. Dennis Hastert’s ceremonial portrait carted off to oblivion, Ryan is sending a clear message about his priorities: Trying for a short-term boost in the abysmal reputation of Congress — by using symbolic gestures that are easy for the electorate to understand — is more important than shielding the long-term reputation and historical stature of the legislative branch. Public sentiment has long seemed solidly in favor of permitting lawmakers to use their taxpayer-funded work spaces as rent-free apartments. So Ryan’s frequent, “I just work here, I don’t live here,” explanation is likely to triumph over the countervailing view — that lawmakers walking the halls in their pajamas a few nights a week don’t do much to elevate the dignity of their profession.  

Clinton Better Bring A-Game to Benghazi Hearing

Clinton testified during the Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing on the Benghazi attacks on Jan. 23, 2013. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

The year’s most important congressional hearing is at hand — not only because momentum in a presidential election is in play, but also because the legislative branch’s ability to conduct serious oversight is on the line.  

On both fronts, the power to shape the public’s perception Thursday rests with Hillary Rodham Clinton. And, whatever else about her behavior and ideology remains open to passionate disagreement, this much looks clear: With a single glaring exception, she has made an exceptionally effective witness during her 31 previous appearances before Congress, dating back more than two decades. All those times testifying as first lady and then as secretary of State, along with eight years taking testimony as a senator from New York and even her time as a young House Judiciary Committee lawyer during the Watergate era, have provided Clinton with significant benefits in preparing for one of the biggest moments of her public life.  

A Tale of Two House Democrats on Opposite Courses Toward the House Exits

(Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

They are a pair of congressmen looking to be in the prime of their public lives. Both are party loyalists with unabashedly progressive views and constituencies as deeply “blue” as they are. Both are emblematic of a caucus that’s trending less white and more liberal. Their names even appear close together on the alphabetical roll of House Democrats.  

And yet it’s become clear in recent days they are on opposite political trajectories. One is getting pushed toward a potential ride to national prominence. The other is returning to a treacherous path pointed toward electoral oblivion, if not personal disgrace.  

High-Risk, Delayed-Reward Strategy for Fighting Menendez Indictment

(Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Sen. Robert Menendez has raised the legal stakes for all of Congress, and bought some crucial time for his own imperiled career, with the aggressive strategy he’s unveiled for fighting corruption charges.  

If the New Jersey Democrat gets his way, then the indictment against him — alleging he put his congressional muscle to work for a longtime friend and benefactor in return for campaign cash and lavish pampering — will be put in limbo for years, maybe even until after he’s next up for re-election in 2018. And in the end, Menendez indicated in several hundred pages of court filings this week , his ideal outcome is getting cleared without a trial but with the backing of the Supreme Court. His defense is looking for a landmark ruling that expands the range of congressional immunity from criminal prosecution.  

Reputation Can Be Tough to Reverse; Just Ask Sheila Jackson Lee

Lee, second from right, came to the defense of an aide. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

The latest dust-up centered on Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee has several hallmarks of her form — behaving in ways the vast majority of members of Congress intuitively know to avoid.  

She got up in somebody’s business in a very public place . She sought to dominate a situation where her very presence was untoward. And she asserted her titular authority in the pursuit of special treatment at a time when such a power play seemed wholly inappropriate.  

When Fear on the Right Is Trumped by Fear of Self

Ellmers is one of the few members of the House GOP Conference facing a Republican primary. But the party has little to worry about. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

When they’re not busy raising money off it, House Republicans tend to sound plenty whiny about their stated No. 1 fear: Being successfully challenged from the right in the next primary.  

The worry turned out to be way overstated last year, and the early signs are the same will prove true next year. It’s been conventional wisdom — since the 2010 tea party wave and a round of redistricting that drained more partisan competition than ever from the congressional map — that the biggest political risk a Republican member can take is not acting conservative enough. The majority’s rank and file has spent this decade beseeching leadership to avoid votes that would move the GOP conference toward the center, and not only because of the membership’s collective ideological bent.  

Four Reasons Republicans Seem Reticent in Menendez Case

(Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

It’s the first federal bribery indictment of a sitting senator in almost a quarter century, and the defendant is among the most combative and combustible Democrats in the Capitol. So why have Republicans spent the better part of the past two weeks with their hands over their mouths?  

There are four plausible reasons for their relative silence about the travails of Robert Menendez. They boil down to concerns about political expedience, foreign policy, self preservation and campaign finance. At a minimum, the GOP may have concluded it best to stand clear while New Jersey’s senior senator twists slowly, but very publicly, in the prosecutorial wind. Calling for him to resign or otherwise piling on, especially before he’s had his day in court, won’t really add to the attention his case will be getting — and it could readily damage the party by magnifying the perception that petty partisan motives lie behind most everything Congress does.  

GOP Aim: Make Menendez's Troubles About Reid

Republicans are hoping to tie troubles Menendez is facing to Reid, right. Image from 2011. (CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Republicans may not realistically smell another Senate seat about to become available, but they’re moving quickly on the very real scent of political blood. And their nose for scandal has them salivating at more than the fate of Sen. Robert Menendez, who may be only weeks from facing federal corruption charges.  

Some in the GOP also sniff something fishy in the way the Obama administration’s Justice Department leaked word of the pending prosecution last week, just as New Jersey’s senior senator was ratcheting up his standing as the most prominent Democratic critic of the president’s foreign policy. Other Republicans insinuate there is news that really stinks, suggesting Minority Leader Harry Reid may have not only abetted but also may have benefited from some of Menendez’s questionable behavior — and he isn’t signaling any interest in separating his colleague from the Senate power structure.