Niels Lesniewski

Trump administration shows up to USA Freedom hearing without answers to key questions about data collection
Mike Lee threatens monthly hearings after Justice Department remains not responsive to letter

Senators expressed their displeasure Wednesday with the Trump administration’s inability to answer questions about the National Security Agency’s collection of call data records at a Judiciary Committee hearing. 

And one senator went so far as to suggest monthly hearings on foreign intelligence surveillance powers.

Impeachment threatens to freeze Democratic presidential race
Six senators seeking nomination would have to sit in Washington during trial

The impeachment inquiry of President Donald Trump is threatening to freeze the Democratic presidential contest in place, at least for the coming weeks, and possibly months.

A year out from the general election, the greatest X-factor for the field of candidates seeking to challenge the president might just be how the impeachment process plays out, and if it makes any new stars in the Democratic field along the way, or takes out any of the front-runners.

Road ahead: Impeachment to lead headlines, even with House away
Senate returns Tuesday to continue confirming judges

The House is not in session this week, and yet there might still be more attention on that side of the Capitol, with House committees led by the Intelligence panel continuing work on the impeachment inquiry.

The committees are seeking testimony from three officials Monday, but it is not yet clear who, if any, will appear for their scheduled closed-door depositions.

What happens if a Senate seat opens during an impeachment trial
With the announced early retirement of Georgia Sen. Johnny Isakson, it is a possibility

What happens if a newly chosen senator gets thrown into the middle of an impeachment trial?

Ask Sen. Chris Coons.

Romney, Manchin want new rescue committees to address trust fund solvency
Bipartisan, bicameral effort calls for setting up joint committees

Sen. Mitt Romney is leading a new bipartisan effort to try to force lawmakers to come together to address looming funding shortfalls in several government trust funds.

In a draft bill shared first with CQ Roll Call, a bipartisan contingent led by the Utah Republican wants to establish “Rescue Committees” to write legislation providing 75 years of solvency for trust funds identified in a report to Congress from the Treasury Department. Examples of funds that would likely qualify include Social Security and the Highway Trust Fund.

Road ahead: More impeachment depositions, plus Turkey legislation and a Boeing hearing
House will also consider a Grand Canyon protection bill

The impeachment inquiry against President Donald Trump will again take center stage at the Capitol this week, though there will also be legislative push-back in the House against Turkey and its incursion into Syria against the Kurds.

The House Intelligence, Oversight and Foreign Affairs committees have another full docket of depositions scheduled this week as part of their impeachment inquiry.

Campus notebook: Digitizing Congress, a flu shot shortage and spotting an owl
Plus fall treats and process for reviewing franked mail is entering the 21st century

There was good news this week for serious Congress nerds everywhere, especially those without access to a massive academic library.

The Government Publishing Office and the Law Library of Congress announced a plan Tuesday to digitize the entirety of the Congressional serial set — bound volumes of legislative reports and related documents dating all the way back to 1817.

A portrait unveiling for ‘Alaskan of the century,’ Uncle Ted Stevens
Senators reminisce about the late Alaska senator and his legendary salmon fishing trips

Some senators are better fishermen than others.

When senior lawmakers gathered with many of their former colleagues to unveil the leadership portrait of former Senate President Pro Tempore Ted Stevens on Wednesday, it was inevitable that there would be plenty of discussion of the legendary salmon fishing trips hosted by the late Republican from Alaska.

Rare, and unapologetic, bipartisan congressional rebuke for Trump on Syria
Mitch McConnell, Nancy Pelosi, Lindsey Graham, Liz Cheney all part with president

“I think Lindsey should focus on Judiciary,” President Donald Trump said Wednesday when asked about criticism from South Carolina Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham of his decision to effectively side with Turkey over the Kurdish population of Syria.

Graham, who is often an ally of the president, was comparing Trump’s move to pull back U.S. forces supporting the Kurds to the Obama administration policy of withdrawal from Iraq. The senator is chairman of both the Judiciary Committee and the Appropriations subcommittee responsible for funding the State Department.

Senate Intelligence Committee in focus on C-SPAN and the big screen this fall
Don’t mess with the intel panel

It’s going to be a big couple of months for the Senate Intelligence Committee, both on Capitol Hill and at the box office.

Chairman Richard M. Burr and ranking Democrat Mark Warner find themselves once again at the epicenter of the biggest political story in Washington, tasked with leading the Senate’s review of President Donald Trump’s interactions with Ukraine that seem all but certain to result in impeachment by the House.

African Americans top targets of 2016 Russian info warfare, Senate panel finds
Panel says campaigns, media outlets need to verify source of viral social media posts before sharing

The Senate Intelligence Committee has confirmed the extent of the Russian government’s expertise at exploiting racial divisions in America.

Among the key takeaways of the second volume of the committee’s study of Russia’s efforts to interfere in the 2016 presidential election is the extent to which minorities were targeted.

Bernie Sanders cancels campaign schedule after heart procedure
Spokesman says presidential candidate had stents installed after doctors found blockage in artery

Sen. Bernie Sanders is recovering after having heart stents installed, canceling his presidential campaign events until further notice.

Jeff Weaver, a senior adviser to the Democratic presidential campaign of the Vermont independent, made the announcement of the medical procedure.

McConnell says he can’t completely prevent an impeachment trial
Duration, however, is ‘a whole different matter’

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell reiterated on Monday that he is bound by Senate rules to take up articles of impeachment if they are presented by the House.

“Under the Senate rules, we’re required to take it up if the House does go down that path, and we’ll follow the Senate rules,” McConnell said. “It’s a Senate rule related to impeachment that would take 67 votes to change.”

Sen. Rob Portman promotes Kevin Smith to chief of staff
Mark Isakowitz will be returning to the private sector

Sen. Rob Portman has a new chief of staff.

The Ohio Republican is elevating Kevin Smith, his deputy chief of staff and communications director, to the top job in his Senate office. Smith has worked for Portman for about three years and has been a familiar face on Capitol Hill, having previously served as communications director to Speaker John A. Boehner.

Senate Intelligence goes slow, seeks meeting with whistleblower
Panel met behind closed doors with acting intelligence director, inspector general

The Senate Intelligence Committee is just getting started on a review and inquiry into the whistleblower complaint that has rocked Capitol Hill this week.

“We’ve had a very productive first day. There’s a lot that we have to learn to proceed forward, but it’s our intention to go through that process,” Chairman Richard M. Burr told reporters after a closed hearing with Acting Director of National Intelligence Joseph Maguire and the intelligence community’s inspector general, Michael Atkinson.

Chris Murphy will still work with White House on gun background checks, even after Trump attack
‘At the same time that Trump is trying to claim that we’re walking away from legislative process on guns, his team is pulling us back in’

Sen. Christopher S. Murphy was not entirely surprised when President Donald Trump attacked him Wednesday, even as administration officials were trying to make sure the Connecticut Democrat was still open to a deal on expanded background checks for gun sales.

“I got a preview last night when Rudy Giuliani called for my impeachment, so I had a feeling that their focus may be turning to me,” Murphy quipped.

Mitt Romney not criticizing Nancy Pelosi’s handling of potential Trump impeachment over Ukraine call
Utah Republican is waiting to see where investigations lead

As some Republicans rush to declare that there are no grounds on which to impeach President Donald Trump, Sen. Mitt Romney is clearly declining to criticize Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

The Republican from Utah said after reading the notes of the call between then-President-elect Volodymyr Zelenskiy of Ukraine and Trump that focusing on whether there was technically a quid-pro-quo of U.S. aid in exchange for an investigation of the Biden family might be misplaced.

McConnell demurs on how Senate would handle impeachment articles

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell on Tuesday would not speculate about how the Senate might handle articles of impeachment against President Donald Trump.

At his weekly media appearance after the Senate policy luncheons, the Kentucky Republican did say that in conversations with top Trump administration officials, including the secretary of Defense and the secretary of State, he never really got an explanation why the aid to Ukraine was being held back. although he was glad the aid was eventually routed there. 

Road ahead: Senate set to pass stopgap spending, with House focus on Homeland Security and immigration
Continuing resolution should clear without a fight

The Senate needs to act this week to clear a stopgap spending bill before recessing through the end of the government’s fiscal year, but that is really the only must-pass business for either chamber.

The House passed the measure Thursday, 301-123, after resolving hangups that included a debate over assisting farmers who have seen demand for crops plummet thanks to the ongoing sparring over trade with China.

Chief Standing Bear statue welcomed in Capitol, replacing William Jennings Bryan
McCarthy: ‘as the tours are given, I promise you: you will stop here’

The prominent placement of Nebraska’s new statue of the legendary Chief Standing Bear in Statuary Hall was quite intentional.

So said Sen. Roy Blunt at an unveiling ceremony on Wednesday afternoon. The Missouri senator was introduced as chairman of the Republican Policy Committee, but it was in one of his other capacities that he had shown Sen. Deb Fischer, R-Neb., where he thought the statue should be positioned.