This Week on the Hill
President Barack Obama and Congressional leaders gathered on Wednesday to unveil a new statue of Rosa Parks. Photo by Alyssa Gourd/NewsHour.
As members of Congress return to Washington amid post-sequester uncertainty, we pause to reflect on some of the non-fiscal matters faced on Capitol Hill last week.
Lew Confirmed as Treasury Secretary
Traveling a much easier road than some of President Barack Obama’s other cabinet nominees, former Chief of Staff Jack Lew was confirmed as Treasury Secretary on Wednesday by a 71-26 Senate vote. The only major hiccup Lew faced during his confirmation hearing was his position as Chief Operating Officer of Citigroup’s alternative investment unit and the $1 million bonus he accepted just before the bank received federal bailout money.
Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, the ranking Republican on the Finance Committee, suggested Lew’s banking past would preclude him from honestly enforcing the Volcker rule, which limits banks’ investments in private equity funds as part of the Dodd-Frank Act. “You would be, in effect, saying to financial firms, ‘Do as I say, not as I did,’” Hatch said.
Despite his objections, Hatch — and 19 other Republicans — voted to confirm Lew. “I hope he and the president take note that I am bending over backwards to display deference,” Hatch noted.
Before serving as Mr. Obama’s chief of staff, Lew served as director of the Office of Management and Budget in the Obama and Clinton White Houses. The media, and even Mr. Obama, have poked fun at his signature; signing the nation’s currency will be one of his first tasks as secretary. Lew replaces Tim Geithner, who has joined the Council on Foreign Relations as a senior fellow.
Jack Lew wasn’t the only successful cabinet confirmation for the president this week. After a lengthy battle with Senate Republicans, former Republican Sen. Chuck Hagel was confirmed in a 58-41 senate vote on Tuesday to be Defense Secretary.
Congress Passes VAWA, Extending Access to New Groups
The House voted 286-138 on Thursday to pass the Senate’s version of the Violence Against Women Act, which adds protections for immigrants, Native Americans and members of the LGBT community. The legislation, originally passed in 1994 to help victims of domestic violence, lapsed in 2011. House Republicans had been resistant to extend the services to more groups, but after discussion on the floor from both sides, members ultimately voted down the House bill in favor of the Senate’s.
On the Path to the Capitol
The Hill is one step closer to welcoming a new member of Congress to Washington. Tuesday Illinois’ 2nd district held a special primary to fill Jesse Jackson Jr.’s congressional seat. Democrat Robin Kelly, a former state representative, won with more than 50 percent of the vote, defeating former Rep. Debbie Halvorson and more than ten other candidates. Since the Chicago-area district is strongly Democratic, Kelly’s primary win almost certainly will translate to a victory in April’s special election against Republican candidate Paul McKinley. In the week leading up to the special primary, Jackson pled guilty to fraud for using campaign funds to buy personal items. PBS NewsHour spoke to Paris Schutz, political reporter with WTTW’s Chicago Tonight, about the effect of the former congressman’s legal troubles on the race.
Listen to that interview here:
Rose Parks Statue Makes Debut at the Capitol
As the Supreme Court was listening to arguments on the constitutionality of Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act on Wednesday, across the street at the Capitol members of Congress, their guests, staff employees of the House and Senate and even a couple of Hollywood celebrities attended a ceremony to unveil a statue dedicated to the memory of civil rights icon Rosa L. Parks. The 9-foot, 2,700-pound bronze statue honoring the woman who Mr. Obama called small in stature but big in courage, was placed in Statuary Hall.
In a rare moment of bipartisanship, congressional leaders from both parties and chambers praised Parks and acknowledged her as the first woman to lie in honor in the Capitol Rotunda. Parks is also the first African-American woman with a full-sized statue at the Capitol.
“Parks reminds us that this is how change happens,” Mr. Obama said. “Rosa Parks’ singular act of disobedience launched a movement. The tired feet of those who walked the dusty roads of Montgomery helped a nation see that to which it had once been blind. It is because of these men and women that I stand here today.”
Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell had similar comments. “We have had humility as a nation to recognize past mistakes, and we’ve had the strength to confront those mistakes. But it has always taken people like Rosa Parks to help get us there,” he said. “Because of the changes she helped set in motion entire generations of Americans have grown up in a nation where segregated buses only exist in museums … where children of every race are free to fulfill their God-given potential and where this simple carpenter’s daughter from Tuskegee is honored as a national hero.”
Photo above: Jack Lew listens to President Obama at the White House on January 10. Photo by Roger L. Wollenberg/Getty Images.
Photo above: The new Rosa Parks statue sits in Statuary Hall.
Coordinating Producer Linda J. Scott contributed to this report.