Congress returns to full plate, if it chooses to do anything with it

The Morning Line

Today in the Morning Line:

  • Congress is back — what it isn’t dealing with (yet)
  • Immigration, Boehner and Lucy and the football
  • Are Republicans moving past “repeal”?
  • White House split on Ukraine

Congress gets back to work, sort of: Lawmakers return to Washington Monday after a two-week recess with a long list of issues demanding their attention, but with a limited appetite for addressing any major pieces of legislation in advance of November’s midterm elections. Senate Democrats will again seek to move forward with a measure to raise the federal minimum wage from $7.25 an hour to $10.10 an hour by 2016. The proposal, however, is unlikely to advance given Republican opposition. In the House, meanwhile, GOP lawmakers plan to vote next month to hold former IRS official Lois Lerner in contempt of Congress for failing to testify about the agency’s targeting of tea party groups. Democrats also will look to extend long-term unemployment insurance benefits, while Republicans want to force the government to approve construction of the Keystone XL oil pipeline. The Associated Press writes that the two items lawmakers must address this fall are funding to keep the government running past the end of the fiscal year in September, and approving money for the Highway Trust Fund “to keep road and bridge construction projects afloat.” The current highway bill expires at the end of September, and the AP’s Andrew Taylor reports “the fund is running critically low on cash.”

Immigration reform – Back from the dead? If there is going to be significant legislative action before Election Day, immigration reform might be the issue. The odds are still long against something getting done, given the election-year political dynamics in the Republican-controlled House. But Speaker John Boehner followed up his statement to GOP donors that he was “hell-bent” on passing reform by mocking Republicans opposed to legislation during a Rotary Club luncheon in Ohio last week. And Florida Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, a key GOP figure behind the immigration effort, told Roll Call that a proposal was gaining momentum. “I think we finally have the policy right. And what we’re finding is more and more people out there as they’re seeing it, different aspects of the policy, are starting to say, ‘Hey, that is something that makes sense,’” he said. GOP leaders floated a trial balloon earlier this year by releasing immigration overhaul principles during the party’s annual retreat, only to face strong pushback from conservatives. While a handful of GOP lawmakers have recently expressed interest in pursuing reform this year, most in the party would likely rather avoid a contentious policy decision before facing voters in November. Still, Boehner and immigration reform has been a little like Lucy and the football…

Reform, not repeal?: Don’t miss this comment from Rep. Cathy McMorris-Rodgers, R-Wash., one of the leaders of the GOP-led House that has voted some 50 times to repeal all or parts of the health care law: “We need to look at reforming the exchanges.” The Spokane Spokesman-Review, her local paper, framed it this way: “With the news this week that more than 600,000 Washington residents have acquired new health care plans through the state exchange, U.S. Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers said it’s unlikely the Affordable Care Act will be repealed.” This is something to watch with other Republicans as they go home and learn of constituents who now have health coverage through the exchanges. Speaking at the Harvard Institute of Politics Friday, Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., said repealing repealing the ACA is unlikely at this point. “I think it’s going to be difficult to turn the clock back,” he said. Remember, the Chamber of Commerce ran an ad touting that Mitch McConnell would “fix” the health care law, not repeal.

White House divide on Ukraine response: President Obama announced Monday in Manila that the United States will impose new sanctions on Russia. That comes, though, as the New York Times reports some White House insiders think the president should have acted more quickly. But the president did not want to get out ahead of the Europeans, so there would be no appearance of any divide. It’s a criticism that has been heard by some more hawkish outsiders even in the president’s own party. By the way, the Times points to Treasury Secretary Jack Lew for arguing caution. Lew is set to testify tomorrow before Congress.

Quote of the day: “I am not and have never been, a supporter of cockfighting or any other forms of animal cruelty.” — Kentucky GOP Senate candidate Matt Bevin, responding to the ongoing fallout over his remarks at a cockfighting rally.

Daily Presidential Trivia: On this day in 1980, President Jimmy Carter accepted the resignation of one of his cabinet members who had opposed the failed rescue mission aimed at freeing American hostages in Iran. Who resigned and what position did he/she hold?
Be the first to Tweet us the correct answer @NewsHour, @rachelwellford, @DomenicoPBS, and you’ll get a Morning Line shout-out.


  • President Obama has responded to racially charged comments allegedly made by Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling. Obama told reporters during a news conference in Kuala Lumpur, “When ignorant folks want to advertise their ignorance you don’t really have to do anything — you just let them talk.”
  • The White House Task Force to Protect Students from Sexual Assault is expected to announce their recommendations Tuesday, according to students and advocate groups who are invited to attend the announcement in Washington.
  • The New York Times analyzes Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker’s chances of becoming the 2016 GOP nominee and the parts of his past that might stand in his way.
  • What happens to government agency heads forced to resign? Some, like former CIA director David Petraeus, land at investment firms. Others, like the former head of the General Services Administration Martha Johnson, can’t get a job, even though, as Rep. James Lankford pointed out in a congressional hearing, it was Johnson’s leadership that prompted an investigation into the GSA’s contracting violations. It’s what happens in Washington’s thumbs-up, thumbs-down culture.
  • Lots of Republicans potential presidential hopefuls went to Indianapolis to woo the National Rifle Assocation, speaking at their national convention. The event was remarkable considering there were no Democrats there this year, when in past years they have spoken. But not everyone was happy with the Republicans who showed up. One talk-radio host who spoke, accused the party of being a “bunch of French Republicans.”
  • NRA head Wayne LaPierre said: “We will never submit and surrender to the national media, I promise you that.” He repeated a line from CPAC: “In this uncertain world, surrounded by lies and corruption, there is no greater freedom than the right to survive, to protect our families with all the rifles, shotguns and handguns we want.”
  • Speaking of guns, two months after a court deemed California’s ban on concealed-weapons permits unconstitutional, one county has seen 4,000 of its 3.1 million residents apply for the permit already.
  • State Del. Barbara Comstock won the GOP primary in Virginia’s 10th district, currently held by retiring Rep. Frank Wolf. Comstock will face Democrat John Faust, the Fairfax County Supervisor, in a district Mitt Romney carried by one one point.
  • Indiana Gov. Mike Pence dodged questions about running for president on “Fox News Sunday,” but as CNN reports, he sounded like a candidate when addressing the National Rifle Association’s annual meeting Friday. He’ll speak at GOP conventions in Wisconsin and Alabama later this spring.
  • The Star Ledger says Chris Christie did create a “culture of retaliation.”
  • The Morning Line confirmed that a federal criminal indictment is expected for Rep. Michael Grimm (R-NY) on campaign-finance charges. Washington Post reports that Grimm turned himself in to federal authorities Monday morning. His lawyer said in a statement that they are “disappointed … but hardly surprised,” dismissing the charges as a “politically driven vendetta.” He added that “Grimm asserts his innocence of any wrongdoing. When the dust settles, he will be vindicated.” He gave no hint that he would step down. “Until then, he will continue to serve his constituents with the same dedication and tenacity that has characterized his lifetime of public service as a Member of Congress, Marine Corps combat veteran and decorated FBI Special Agent.”
  • Politico notes recent House scandals are causing headaches for House Speaker John Boehner — from the expected indictment of New York Rep. Michael Grimm to the extramarital making out by family values Rep. Vance McAllister to the cocaine buy of resigned Florida Rep. Trey Radel: “Not since the days of the Jack Abramoff scandal a decade ago have so many House GOP lawmakers garnered this many scandalous headlines in such a short a period of time.” It should be pointed out, however, that only Grimm’s seat is potentially competitive and Republicans are expected to retain control of the House, in large measure because redistricting has created a playing field that favors Republicans.
  • Former Gov. Tom Ridge, R-Pa., is stepping down from his role at Everytown, Michael Bloomberg’s new anti-gun group.
  • No longer in the GOP limelight, former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin still has a role to play in the GOP, identifying and supporting conservative women whose stories resonate with her, like Nebraska Sen. Deb Fischer or Iowa candidate for Senate Joni Ernst, for whom Palin stumped Sunday.
  • The fight is on to represent the second wealthiest congressional district. California Rep. Henry Waxman’s retirement announcement “unleashed a kind of political anarchy on the Botox Belt,” Mark Leibovich writes in the New York Times Magazine.
  • Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe heads to Charlottesville Monday to sign a mental health bill with state Sen. Creigh Deeds, whose son suffered from mental illness and killed himself last year.
  • New Hampshire Gov. Maggie Hassan will speak at the Maryland Democratic Party’s annual gala next month.
  • Oregon is moving to the federal health exchange system, after the state-run exchange continued to be plagued with problems and failed to sign up anyone online.
  • The Savannah Harbor Expansion Project, and its stalled authorization, is taking on added political significance, with Georgia Republicans accusing the White House of trying to deny its congressmen a project to tout in the runup to the Senate election.
  • Keep an eye on the Rundown blog for breaking news throughout the day, our home page for show segments, and follow @NewsHour for the latest.





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