How and Why McConnell Might Shift on Supreme Court Vacancy

McConnell says the next president should choose the next Supreme Court justice. (Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

Does Mitch McConnell have an escape hatch? Absolutely. Does he need one? Perhaps. Does he want one? Not clear yet.  

Precious little happens by genuine accident or reflexive impulse anywhere at the Capitol, and fewer things still are said on a whim or done as a lark at the congressional leadership level. So it’s a solid presumption the Senate majority leader had considered all his options and knew exactly what he was doing at 6:15 p.m. on Feb. 13, when his office hit the send button on a nuclear gauntlet less than 90 minutes after the first report of  Justice Antonin Scalia's death.  

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.  

A Power Congress Grabbed, Then Rarely Used

Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid helped insert the "atom bomb" into legislation years ago. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

Twenty years ago, it was enacted as a classically obscure legislative rider, an opaquely worded few paragraphs, crafted by both parties, which each side agreed to keep quiet before its insertion into sprawling must-pass legislation focused on a wholly different issue.  

Fifteen years ago, when the provision was first put to use, some lawmakers decried the unleashing of an “atom bomb” that would topple the balance of powers and neutralize the authority of federal regulators.  

Haley Prompts Ryan to Take Sides in the Fight for GOP's Soul

UNITED STATES - September 2: South Carolina Gov. Nikki R.  Haley's State of the Union address drew praise from Speaker Paul D. Ryan (Photo By Al Drago/CQ Roll Call)

The passions of the Republican civil war that surfaced because of Gov. Nikki R. Haley’s comments Tuesday night have been trumped by something that for Congress might be even more important:  

Speaker Paul D. Ryan, who won the House gavel last fall as the consensus choice of both the combative insurgent conservatives and the cooler-headed establishment mainstream, left no doubt which side he stands with now.  

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.

Nikki Haley Can Look to Past Responses for Do's and Don'ts

(Al Drago/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Why in the world would any story about this year’s State of the Union ritual start with a reminiscence about Bill Clinton from three decades ago?  

Because love him or loathe him, the shared judgment of the political class is he changed a whole lot of standards for how Washington operates. And one of the first ways he did so was way back in 1985, transforming how the opposition party presents its rebuttal to the president’s address. In the first 20 years after the speech was moved to prime time, the party out of the White House relied exclusively on prominent congressional figures to provide the official televised response. But the Democrats decided to try something different after their drubbing in Ronald Reagan’s re-election. And after Warren Beatty turned them down, they settled on the 39-year-old governor of Arkansas to take the lead in selling a newly moderated message. With Genesis playing in the background, Clinton talked of polices for “building bridges to the 21st century,” a rhetorical theme for a presidency that started just eight years later.  

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.  

David Hawkings’ Whiteboard: State of the Union

(Thomas McKinless/CQ Roll Call)


One week before President Barack Obama stands before Congress for his last annual address, CQ Roll Call Senior Editor David Hawkings lays out what to expect from this year’s State of the Union .  

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.”  

Gridlock Greets Mondale on Return to D.C.

Mondale visited the Capitol in January. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Tuesday’s symposium on the legacy of Walter Mondale, the former vice president and power-player senator, offers a fresh rationale for considering a smartly argued report that’s gone largely overlooked in all this fall’s congressional news.  

The white paper, released last month by the nonprofit and nonpartisan Partnership for Public Service, concludes that congressional polarization has spread gridlock so widely and deeply beyond the Capitol that it’s gummed up the works significantly for the executive branch as well. Few people could testify to all this with more authority than Mondale, who in the 1970s elevated the vice presidency from decades of sinecure status, and before that spent a dozen years working in a highly functional Senate as a peripatetic policy maven with a strong hand in executive branch oversight without regard to party.