Tea Party Patriots Weekly Legislative Update for 12/14/14
LAME DUCK CALENDAR:
The House is done for the year, for the session, and as far as we can tell, the Congress.
The Senate will come back in tomorrow, and will likely stay through only Tuesday afternoon, because Tuesday evening is the start of Hanukkah, and they’ll want to go home for good then. But it’s still Harry Reid’s Senate until January 6, so even though I don’t THINK he’ll do it, and he’d piss off a lot of Senators in both parties if he did, I won’t be surprised if he chooses to bring the Senate back into session later to finish whatever unfinished business he can.
ObamaCare architect Jonathan Gruber and Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services chief Marilyn Tavenner both appeared Tuesday morning in front of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee to answer questions about the lack of transparency in passing and implementing ObamaCare. As I predicted last Sunday, the two of them were seated side by side at the witness table, despite the request from HHS that they not be required to appear together.
Gruber did his best to sound contrite, but he made the mistake of trying to pass off his outrageous statements as “glibness.” The GOP members of the committee did their best to pin him down. The best exchange of the day came when GOP Rep. Cynthia Lummis of WY – who gets her family’s health insurance through an ObamaCare exchange – told the tragic story of her husband, who died unexpectedly in his sleep less than two months ago, after choosing not to get the last test his doctor recommended for him, apparently because of its cost. Her closing line to Gruber: “Get over your damn glibness.”
The Senate took up the NDAA on Friday night, after Sen. Tom Coburn agreed to accept a vote on his objections to the inclusion of the Western land grab. Coburn’s amendment to strip out the land grab was defeated by 89-11, and once that was disposed of, the bill sailed to passage.
The CROmnibus ultimately passed both House and Senate, though not without at least a bit of drama.
But before we get to that, I need to correct something I shared with you last Sunday, regarding the passage of the Yoho stand-alone bill. I told you last week the House GOP Leadership offered this bill up as opportunity for House conservatives to vote against the President’s executive amnesty, to let off a little steam before asking them to vote for a spending bill that would do no such thing.
I was wrong. Even on a maneuver like this, the House GOP Leadership crossed us, and I failed to recognize it before we got on the call Sunday. I apologize for that, and want to make sure you have the proper information, even if it’s a week late.
So here’s what actually happened with that bill:
The fact of the matter is that the House GOP Leadership, acting through its agents on the House Rules Committee, pulled a sneaky maneuver on the Yoho bill and turned it upside down before it went to the floor.
When the original bill was introduced, it was entitled “The Executive Amnesty Prevention Act of 2014,” and it had just 20 lines in it. But when the Rules Committee met last Wednesday evening, an amendment in the nature of a substitute was offered, and that “amendment” – a new bill, actually – was different in very important but subtle ways:
- The title of the bill was changed to “The Preventing Executive Overreach on Immigration Act of 2014.” In other words, the new title removed the word “amnesty,” as if that word alone were somehow offensive to those seeking the amendment. Which, of course, it is.
- The original bill included no exceptions. The revised substitute bill contained an exception “for humanitarian purposes where the [illegal] aliens are at imminent risk of bodily harm or death” – in other words, exactly what the President said when he pushed his DACA program in the first place.
The House GOP Leadership literally snuck this provision in in the dark. Very few Members knew of the changes to the bill, and, according to our friend, Rep. Louie Gohmert of TX, no copies of the revised legislation were made available in the Speaker’s Lobby, where copies of legislation to be acted on that day regularly sit, right outside the House chamber.
The ironic – and possibly unintended (?) – effect of the subtle changes is to totally reverse the effect of the bill. If the bill as it passed the House were passed by the Senate and then signed by the President, it would CONFIRM, rather than deny, the President’s actions as lawful.
The good news is, the Senate did not take up the Yoho bill this week. The most significant floor action in both houses this week was the passage of the CROmnibus, so that’s what we’re going to focus on tonight.
First, let’s look at the House.
I told you last Sunday evening that we expected to be able to see the results of the Hal Rogers-Barbara Mikulski negotiations on Monday morning. The original plan was to unveil the bill Monday morning, move it to the House Rules Committee Tuesday afternoon, and then hold the vote on final passage Wednesday afternoon before 3 PM so Members could get out of town. That schedule would have met the House GOP’s “Three Day” rule, which we all know is actually a “24 Hours and Two Seconds” rule.
That didn’t work out so well. Monday morning became Monday afternoon, then evening, then Tuesday morning, then afternoon, and then, finally, at about 8:20 PM, the Rules Committee posted on its web site the text of H.R. 83, the 1,603-page CROmnibus spending package that would fund 11 of the government’s 12 appropriations bills through Sep. 30 of 2015, leaving just the Department of Homeland Security funding bill funded on a short-term Continuing Resolution basis through Feb. 27.
Interestingly, by 11 PM, the link on the Rules Committee web site was no longer a live link. Nevertheless, enough people had downloaded and started circulating the PDF file of the bill that it was in broad circulation Tuesday night, and the “reading parties” began.
Through the course of the day Wednesday, conservatives on and off the Hill became aware of the details of the legislation. And they didn’t like what they saw. Neither did many liberals.
I am not going to go into details of what the bill contained, because it’s a monster, and you’ve all been reading about it since Wednesday. And besides, unless you already have the U.S. Code memorized, reading it page by page won’t do you much good, because it constantly makes reference to already-enacted law.
So we’re just going to focus on the thing we cared about most in this turkey of a bill – whether or not it contained language blocking the use of any government funds to implement the President’s unlawful, unconstitutional executive amnesty.
It did not.
So a group of conservatives went to the Rules Committee on Wednesday evening and asked to be allowed to have an amendment authored by Mick Mulvaney of SC made in order during the next day’s floor consideration of the bill. The Mulvaney Amendment had no fewer than 68 conservative Republicans cosponsors, almost a third of the entire House GOP Conference. But the Rules Committee, again acting as the agents of the House GOP Leadership, said no.
In my view, this was a tactical error by the House GOP Leadership. Apparently, for all their bluster that the no-funding-for-executive-amnesty position was in the minority inside the House GOP Conference, they weren’t sure enough of that to risk allowing a floor vote on the amendment.
The result was that the conservatives, denied the opportunity even to try to amend the bill, now had no good reason at all to vote for it OR for the Rule.
On Thursday afternoon, the Rule moved to the floor. And it quickly became clear the House GOP Leadership had miscalculated – with Democrats voting in lock step against the Rule, as few as 19 Republican “no” votes could sink the Rule and lead to the kind of chaos the Leadership seeks to avoid at all costs.
Arms were twisted, promises were made, gifts were exchanged. Marlin Stutzman of IN said later he voted for the Rule only after being assured by a member of Leadership that the CROmnibus was being pulled in favor of a short-term CR; Kerry Bentivolio, who lost his seat in a primary and won’t be returning for the 114th Congress, appears to have struck a deal to trade his vote in exchange for help retiring his outstanding campaign debt.
In the end, the Rule passed by the barest of margins, 214-212. Despite the fact that the Rule denied the 68 Mulvaney Amendment cosponsors the chance to amend the bill on the floor, only 16 Republicans had the courage to stand up to Leadership and vote to take down the Rule. The problem was, they simply weren’t organized; despite the fact that Tea Party Patriots urged as early as Wednesday that the fight shift to a fight on the Rule, few of the other outside groups weighed in – at least not to my knowledge – and our allies inside the House GOP Conference didn’t organize as a group to try to take down the Rule.
Following the vote on the Rule, the House moved to take up the underlying CROmnibus bill. Debate began, but was somewhat abruptly put on hold – it became clear the Leadership didn’t have the votes needed to pass the bill without a significant number of votes from Democrats. And what happened next was extraordinary – for seven hours, the House waited in limbo while Democrats fought amongst themselves for the votes necessary to pass the bill.
The President and Vice President began making personal phone calls to wavering Democrats, urging them to vote for the bill. The President even dispatched his Chief of Staff to Capitol Hill, to attend a 3-½ hour meeting of the House Democratic Caucus, at which Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi declared her strong opposition to the bill and urged her caucus to vote it DOWN.
But working against her were her own Number Two and Three men, Minority Whip Steny Hoyer of MD and Assistant Democratic Leader James Clyburn of SC.
In the end, the bill passed by a vote of 216-209. Republicans split on the bill, with 162 voting “yes” and 67 voting “no.” The bill’s passage was made possible by the 57 Democrats who voted for it.
Shortly after passage of the CROmnibus, the House also passed two short-term CR’s – one lasting for just two days, through Saturday midnight, and one lasting through Wednesday, in case the Senate needed more time to get its work done. Then the House headed out of town, leaving the ball in the Senate’s court.
In the Senate, Jeff Sessions, Ted Cruz, and Mike Lee made clear they wanted what House conservatives wanted – at the very least, they demanded, they should be given the opportunity to vote on an amendment containing language blocking funding for the President’s executive amnesty. They figured that in a worst-case scenario, at least they would have a vote we could later use. In addition to wanting a vote on the amendment, Cruz said he would raise a point of order on constitutional grounds, arguing that the House did not have the authority to pass legislation funding an unconstitutional executive action.
McConnell and Reid spent the day Friday trying to work out an agreement. Late Friday afternoon, they thought they had the terms of an agreement that would get Unanimous Consent, even though there was no provision in the agreement for a vote on the blocking amendment Sessions, Cruz and Lee wanted. Instead, the agreement said the Senate would that night waive the necessary waiting period for the vote to “ripen” and pass a funding bill that would last through Wednesday, then the Senate would go home Friday night and come back Monday morning, at which time they would start voting on procedural matters (including the Cruz constitutional point of order) leading up to the CROmnibus. McConnell left the Capitol, telling reporters on his way out that he would see them again Monday.
But later Friday evening, when Reid went to the floor to announce the terms of the UC agreement outlining the floor schedule for the coming days, our friend Mike Lee asked for an immediate vote to stop the President’s executive amnesty. Reid refused to give them the vote they wanted, and as a result, Cruz and Lee refused to give consent to the Unanimous Consent agreement Reid and McConnell had previously worked out.
With no UC in place, the waiting period applied again, and the Senate had to stay in session through the weekend to allow the votes to happen as scheduled. Reid was free to run the Senate the way he wanted to. Realizing he would now need to schedule cloture votes, he took advantage of the opportunity and scheduled the first vote on the CROmnibus for 1 AM Sunday morning, meaning the final cloture vote would “ripen” 30 hours later, at 7 AM Monday morning. And that meant he had to keep the Senate in session on Saturday, so the cloture countdown clock would keep ticking as he moved back and forth between the executive and legislative calendars.
Normally that’s a quick voice vote, but because Republicans were refusing to yield back time, he had to have a vote on each maneuver, and that takes time – about 20 minutes per vote, if Republicans deliberately use every means at their disposal to stall. So that’s what he did with his Saturday – he held the procedural votes necessary to line up nominations for confirmation on Monday. If he had not had that time available to him, he would have started lining up those procedural votes first thing Monday morning, and would have taken time next week against a ticking clock. In fact, he probably wouldn’t have been able to get through all 24 key nominations if he hadn’t had the head start, because even Harry Reid can’t change the holiday calendar, and Tuesday evening is the first night of Hanukkah, and Senators wanted to get out of town before then if at all possible.
Late Saturday evening, Reid and Cruz came to agreement to end the Vote-A-Rama and move to a vote on the Cruz point of order. It went down by a vote of 74-22. Most of the GOP No votes were simply angry with Cruz for the Saturday session. Then the Senate voted on the underlying bill, and it passed by a vote of 56-40, with 22 Dems and 18 Republicans voting against it. At least eight Democrats waited to see if their votes were going to be needed to pass it; once assured the measure would pass, and they were free to vote as best they saw fit, they voted no.
The end result of the refusal to agree to the UC agreement Friday night is that 24 Obama nominees who may not have been confirmed will now definitely be confirmed – including Vivek Murphy, Obama’s nominee for Surgeon General (who has been strongly opposed by the NRA for his position as an anti-gun advocate) and Sarah Saldaña, Obama’s nominee for Assistant Secretary of Homeland Security in charge of Citizenship and Immigration Services (who, ironically, was strongly opposed by none other than Ted Cruz, despite the fact that she is a U.S. Attorney from Texas, because she averred in her confirmation hearing that she believes the President has the legal authority to implement his executive amnesty).
SENATE FLOOR ACTION NEXT WEEK:
Senate floor action Monday and Tuesday will be dominated by nominations that were made possible by the Saturday Vote-A-Rama. The tax extenders bill will likely see action, as will the Terrorism Risk Insurance Act.