The top 10 Roll Call stories from 2019

Readers favored stories about Mueller, impeachment, AOC ... and weaponized ticks?

It was a busy news year in “the swamp,” including when a protester from Clean Water Action was seen wearing a Swamp Thing costume during the March confirmation hearing for David Bernhardt, nominee to be secretary of the Interior. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)
It was a busy news year in “the swamp,” including when a protester from Clean Water Action was seen wearing a Swamp Thing costume during the March confirmation hearing for David Bernhardt, nominee to be secretary of the Interior. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)
Posted December 27, 2019 at 11:30am

Some may argue that calling 2019 a busy year on Capitol Hill would be an understatement.

The 116th Congress was sworn in amid the longest government shutdown in history, featured hearings on a bombshell report by special counsel Robert S. Mueller III, and ended with votes to impeach President Donald Trump and pass a spending package to keep the government running through next September.

And in between, Congress asked whether the Pentagon weaponized ticks.

That all happened in 12 months, and the 116th Congress still has another year to go, a year that will feature a Senate impeachment trial and elections that to decide control of the White House and both chambers.

Some of the stories that topped the charts on rollcall.com reflected the year’s momentous news.  And some, well, didn’t or focused on events that were sizzling hot at the time but may even be forgotten by now. One wasn’t even published this year.

But they were your favorites, so here’s what made the top 10, based on page views:

10. Covington Catholic lawyer adds Rep. Ilhan Omar to ‘libel,’ ‘get sued’ list

A group of MAGA-hat wearing Covington Catholic students from Kentucky became the center of a controversy in January, when a video emerged of them circling a Native American protester singing a tribal song. Rep. Ilhan Omar wrote, then deleted, a tweet claiming the teens were at fault for the confrontation and it caught the ire of the students’ attorney, who threatened to sue her for spreading “libel” against his clients.

9. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s call for a ‘living wage’ starts in her office

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez announced she would pay her staff a “living wage” of no less than $52,000 annually, and pushed her colleagues to do the same. The salary was almost unheard for many of the 20-somethings whose long hours make House and Senate offices run.

8. A Russian oligarch bought Maryland’s election vendor. Now senators are questioning the rules

Mueller’s April report found Russia hacked state databases and voting machine companies — which troubled some lawmakers. The findings brought readers back to a 2018 story from senior congressional correspondent Niels Lesniewski about Maryland’s senators and their concerns about a Russian oligarch’s connection to the state’s voter registration system.

7. Suicide prevention hotline to get three-digit phone number

The Federal Communications Commission announced plans in August to move forward with establishing a three-digit number to reach a suicide hotline. The goal was to replace the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline of  800-273-8255 with an easier to promote and remember 988.

As the White House waited for its first look at Mueller’s report, White House correspondent John Bennett reported that only a “bombshell” would dramatically change public opinion. And, now, after a tumultuous appropriations and impeachment process, the facts seem to be on his side. A Monmouth University poll in December found about 43 percent approved of the job Donald Trump is doing as president. In January of 2018, 42 percent approved of Trump’s job performance.

5. Graham abruptly leaves hearing during official’s testimony

Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., wasn’t getting answers on several yes or no questions from Brian Hook, the U.S. special representative for Iran, during an October Senate Foreign Relations hearing. The frustrated Graham, who had earlier called Trump’s move to withdraw U.S. troops from Syria the “most screwed-up decision” he’d seen since being elected in 1995, just left the room while Hook was mid-sentence. The whole scene was captured on video. 

4. Wilbur Ross doesn’t understand why furloughed federal workers need food banks

Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross in a CNBC interview during January’s government shutdown said he didn’t understand why furloughed employees would need assistance from food banks. Democrats pounced, calling out Trump’s administration as a bunch of wealthy people out of touch with its then-unpaid federal workforce. Chief economic adviser Lawrence Kudlow was dispatched the next morning to clarify the comments.

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3. House orders Pentagon to say if it weaponized ticks and released them

The House quietly voted in July to require the Pentagon inspector general to tell Congress whether the department had experimented with using disease-carrying insects as a weapon, or whether they were accidentally or purposely released into the public realm. The story, first reported on CQ Roll Call, was shared far and wide and even spurred a fact check on Snopes.com.

The Senate Intelligence Committee quietly released the second installment of its bipartisan investigation into election interference in October, and opinion columnist Patricia Murphy urged more people to take notice. In her column, Murphy summarized the key findings and suggested: “If you read nothing else now that Congress is back in session, take a moment to digest this report. It may be the most important document you ever read.”

1. House floor erupts after GOP lawmaker shouts ‘Go back to Puerto Rico’

The top story of the year dates back to January and, in true CQ Roll Call style, occurred during House debate. GOP Rep. Jason Smith caused the House to explode when he yelled “Go back to Puerto Rico!” across the aisle as Democratic Rep. Tony Cárdenas was at the podium.

The Missouri congressman apologized to Cárdenas and clarified the comment was directed at “all the Democrats who were vacationing down in Puerto Rico last weekend during the government shutdown,” referring to a trip that Senate and House Democrats took organized by the political arm of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, which Cardenas leads.

The California Democrat later said the two had patched things up

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