Niels Lesniewski

Urgency of marijuana policy was on full display Tuesday
Senate Banking hearing and bills unveiled give an early look at key 2020 issue

“In short, the sky is not falling in Colorado.”

That is how Republican Sen. Cory Gardner summed up his testimony to the Senate Banking Committee Tuesday morning, where he was advocating for legislative action to give legal marijuana businesses access to banks and protection for banks from being viewed as money-launderers under federal law for handling their money.

Debt deal moving forward with key GOP, Democratic support
Fiscal hawks blast agreement: ‘Washington has all but abandoned economic sanity’

Updated 7:10 p.m. | Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin visited Senate Republicans Tuesday to try to shore up support for a two-year spending caps and debt limit accord, amid bipartisan concern over tacking another $324 billion onto deficits — a figure that could more than quintuple when spread out over a decade.

Mnuchin sought to reassure Republicans at their weekly policy lunch that President Donald Trump in fact supports the deal he reached Monday with Speaker Nancy Pelosi, according to Senate Appropriations Chairman Richard C. Shelby and others.

Kamala Harris, Jerry Nadler bill would decriminalize marijuana, expunge most convictions
Legislation set to be unveiled on Tuesday would include a 5-percent tax on cannabis products

Changing marijuana policy needs to go beyond decriminalization to the expunging of old criminal convictions, according to two key Democratic lawmakers.

House Judiciary Chairman Jerrold Nadler of New York and California Sen. Kamala Harris, a 2020 White House hopeful, have come together on new legislation designed to address both sides of the equation. The legislation is likely to serve as a key marker heading into next year’s elections. 

Remember John Ensign? He just got divorced from wife of three decades
Former Nevada senator resigned in 2011, facing threat of expulsion over cover-up of affair

Former Sen. John Ensign, who resigned from the Senate in 2011 while facing the possibility of expulsion, has divorced his wife after more than three decades, bringing up memories of a sordid affair that reached as far as the FBI and FEC. 

Ensign, a Republican from Nevada who returned to his veterinary practice after leaving the Senate, had been involved in an extra-marital affair with a staffer of his who was married to his chief of staff, and went to such great lengths to try to hide it that the Ethics panel came to believe he had violated federal civil and criminal law. The FBI and FEC began probes of Ensign, but then either dropped their investigations or dismissed complaints. 

Road ahead: All eyes on the budget and debt limit deal, except when Mueller testifies
House to tackle border issues, while Senate will confirm Defense secretary, clear 9/11 compensation bill

All eyes this week will be on whether House lawmakers are able to pass a deal to raise the debt limit and set spending levels for the next two years before leaving for the August recess on Friday.

That is except, of course, when former special counsel Robert S. Mueller III seizes all the attention when he testifies before the House Judiciary and Intelligence committees.

Marco Rubio aims to boost small biz, counter China, with SBA reauthorization
Florida GOP senator is chairman of the Small Business and Entrepreneurship Committee

Even if you follow Congress, you might not realize that Sen. Marco Rubio is the chairman of the Small Business and Entrepreneurship Committee.

But the Florida Republican has been active with that part of his portfolio too, this week unveiling a chairman’s mark for what would be the first full reauthorization and overhaul of the Small Business Administration in almost 20 years, and holding a field hearing on the role of small businesses in the Sunshine State’s space industry.

Senate seeks to make sure that hacking election systems is a federal crime
Senators unanimously pass narrow legislation, but no broad action is expected

The Senate took another small step to improve election security Wednesday evening, even as there is no plan for a broader debate on the floor.

As the chamber was closing for the evening, senators passed by unanimous consent a bipartisan bill out of the Senate Judiciary Committee designed to make sure that hacking election systems is actually a federal crime.

GOP spending hawks hang up 9/11 bill; passage still likely
Fiscal hawks, Sens. Lee and Paul, often oppose new spending unless paid for with cuts elsewhere in the federal budget

A House-passed bill that would extend a financial lifeline to thousands of victims suffering health problems from the 9/11 terrorist attacks is facing some political resistance in the Senate.

Utah Republican Mike Lee has a hold on the legislation, according to the nation’s top firefighters union. And Kentucky Republican Rand Paul objected Wednesday when New York Democrat Kirsten Gillibrand sought unanimous consent to bring up the bill for a vote.

NASA chief warns yearlong stopgap could cripple return to moon
Sen. Moran asked Administrator Bridenstine for help winning over former House colleagues

With celebrations underway marking the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 mission, the NASA administrator is warning that a full-year stopgap spending bill, like one recently floated by the Trump administration, would be “devastating” to U.S. efforts to get back to the moon.

Administrator Jim Bridenstine was at the Senate Commerce Committee Wednesday for a hearing on space exploration to the moon and Mars, when Chairman Roger Wicker, a Mississippi Republican, asked about the potential consequences of a yearlong continuing resolution, or CR.

Seth Moulton makes case that good foreign policy will beat Trump
Massachusetts Democrat and presidential long shot highlights his combat experience, alliance

Massachusetts Rep. Seth Moulton ranks among the lower tier of 2020 Democratic White House hopefuls, but as a Marine Corps combat veteran, he argues that a foreign policy focus will be needed to lure moderates and Republicans to vote against President Donald Trump.

Moulton grabbed some attention in Iowa over the weekend with a full push for the president’s impeachment and removal.

Letters in Amy McGrath campaign launch video were postmarked the same day
Three-minute video announcing challenge to McConnell was titled ‘The Letter’ about her own unanswered plea

Kentucky Senate candidate Amy McGrath’s three-minute campaign launch  video retells her personal story of getting no answer to letters to members of Congress, then features four Kentuckians writing to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell for help with personal crises.

The video implies that McConnell never responded, but it appears the letters were sent Tuesday, the same day that McGrath announced her bid for the Democratic nomination to challenge him. 

Harry Reid still has a few punches left
Former Senate majority leader keeps working more than a year after pancreatic cancer diagnosis

LAS VEGAS — Former Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid retired from Congress back at the end of 2016, but the old boxer still has a few punches left for the institution he served in for 30 years, not to mention the New York Yankees. 

The 79-year-old Nevada Democrat met with CQ Roll Call in his office off the casino floor at the Bellagio on the Las Vegas Strip last week to talk his health, politics and a little baseball.

No new legislative momentum after election security briefings
House has passed legislation, but there is no plan for moving a Senate bill

Sen. Marco Rubio emerged from a closed briefing on the Trump administration’s efforts to secure elections and made a renewed push for his own bipartisan deterrence legislation, even as he acknowledged there has not been momentum.

“In my view, they’re doing everything you can do,” Rubio said of the administration efforts. “Election interference is a broadly used term, and understand this is psychological warfare. It’s designed to weaken America from the inside out, to drive divisions internally so we fight with each other, to undermine our confidence in the elections and in our democracy and particularly to undermine individual candidates either because they don’t like that candidate or because they know someone else.”

Amy McGrath walks back remarks on Kavanaugh confirmation
Kentucky Democrat is challenging Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell in 2020

Updated 7:53 p.m. | Kentucky Democrat Amy McGrath reversed course Wednesday night on whether she would have voted for Supreme Court Justice Brett M. Kavanaugh, just a day after launching her campaign to unseat Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.

McGrath tweeted that she would have voted against Kavanaugh’s confirmation to the high court, after saying in an interview with the Louisville Courier-Journal earlier in the day that she “probably would have voted for him.”

Harris and Ocasio-Cortez team up on improving housing access for people with past criminal records
New legislation would raise burden of proof for evicting people from public housing

California Sen. Kamala Harris and New York Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez are coming together on a new proposal to help with access to housing for previously incarcerated individuals.

The legislation from the two Democrats would, among other provisions, raise the burden of proof for making eviction and screening determinations related to criminal records. The lawmakers also want to ban the practice of allowing families to be evicted from public housing because of crimes that may be committed by visitors rather than residents.

Joe Manchin wants to block funding 2026 World Cup until women’s team gets equal pay
Competition to be hosted in North America would require federal support

A Senate appropriator wants to block spending of federal money to support the 2026 men’s World Cup until the U.S. women’s team receives equal pay.

West Virginia Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin III unveiled the two-page bill Tuesday afternoon that would block the use of funds to support the 2026 World Cup matches, which are scheduled to be shared among Canada, Mexico and the United States as part of a joint bid.

Why 2020 Democrats need to pay so much attention to Nevada
State Democratic Party will further boost influence with virtual caucus, early voting

BOULDER CITY, Nev. ⁠— Like most Nevada Democrats, Sen. Jacky Rosen always wants to see more 2020 candidates paying attention to her state, and a new early caucus voting process may further boost the party’s influence.

“What I try to tell people about Nevada is that you might know us for beautiful Lake Tahoe or [the] Las Vegas Strip, but we’re a string of communities that have been here a long time, people who deeply care and are committed to each other,” Rosen told CQ Roll Call on the side of the parade route here at the annual Damboree Celebration last week.

2020 hopefuls say Nevada Fourth of July celebration more American than the one in D.C.
Sen. Cory Booker and Rep. Seth Moulton flip pancakes in Boulder City

BOULDER CITY, Nev. ⁠— The Democratic presidential candidates who made the trip to the “Damboree” on the morning of the Fourth of July say that this classic Nevada celebration better represents America than the military showcase headlined by President Donald Trump back in Washington, D.C.

After flipping pancakes and marching in a parade, Sen. Cory Booker praised the atmosphere, which featured supporters of a handful of 2020 Democratic candidates.

Democrats in Las Vegas cheer Elizabeth Warren’s bid to end private immigration prisons
2020 White House hopeful’s Senate office has been investigating private prison operators

EAST LAS VEGAS — Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s call to eliminate private immigration prisons drew raucous support Tuesday evening during a town hall in Las Vegas.

With 2020 Democratic presidential candidates campaigning across the country, the Massachusetts senator was the first of at least four making stops in Clark County over the July Fourth holiday.

Durbin and Duckworth want Major League Baseball to extend foul ball netting at all parks
Following announcements from Nationals and White Sox, Illinois senators press Manfred

Democratic Sens. Richard J. Durbin and Tammy Duckworth want Major League Baseball to expand netting to protect fans from foul balls across the entirety of the major leagues.

The Illinois senators have written to MLB commissioner Rob Manfred seeking an extension of netting at all ballparks. The letter, dated Thursday, follows announcements of extended netting by the Chicago White Sox and the Washington Nationals.