Niels Lesniewski

AOC and Warren team up to probe Treasury Secretary Mnuchin over Sears bankruptcy
Question Mnuchin's time on the Sears board, connection to CEO Eddie Lampert

Sen. Elizabeth Warren and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez teamed up Thursday to blast Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin over the bankruptcy of Sears.

The Democrats from Massachusetts and New York, respectively, are questioning Mnuchin’s actions as a member of the Sears board and his longstanding ties to Eddie Lampert, the Sears CEO who came into that role after the retailer was purchased by his hedge fund.

US could be at war by the time Congress returns from recess, Udall says
Democrats force votes on approving war with Iran, but come up short in the Senate

Democrats on both sides of Capitol Hill have been forcing votes on President Donald Trump’s military powers this week amid the ratcheting up of tensions with Iran, getting predictably disparate results.

In the latest test, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Wednesday turned back a Democrat-led effort to move legislation designed to thwart preemptive military action against Iran.

Iran escalations bring war powers debates back to the Capitol
Sen. Tim Kaine expects debate behind closed doors at the Armed Services Committee

A Senate briefing by the Trump administration Tuesday about the escalation in tensions with Iran appears certain to kick off another round of sparring over the president’s war powers.

When asked last week whether President Donald Trump could strike Iran using existing authorities from the authorization for use of military force that was enacted after 9/11, the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee reflected on the history of disputes between the executive and legislative branches.

Senators ask Trump administration why the ‘American Taliban’ is getting out of prison early
John Walker Lindh has been on track for release on Thursday

A bipartisan team of senators is asking the Trump administration why the convicted terrorist who became known as the “American Taliban” is about to get early release from federal prison.

And the questions are coming in part from the chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee.

Road ahead: Will Congress get a disaster relief deal before Memorial Day?
House and Senate will keep full schedules as budget talks continue for this week and beyond

The big question for the week is whether Congress will actually act on long-awaited disaster relief before lawmakers head out for Memorial Day.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has said such a vote is on the floor agenda for this week, but as senators left Thursday afternoon for the weekend, there was still no final agreement on any bipartisan package.

Sen. Rick Scott asks FBI to brief senators on Russian voter hacking in Florida
The FBI confirmed to Scott that two counties had voter files accessed by Russia ahead of the presidential election in 2016, he said

Updated 2:36 p.m. | Sen. Rick Scott has asked the FBI to provide a briefing to any interested senators on Russian intrusion into Florida voter files.

Scott, who was the governor of Florida, said the FBI confirmed to him on Wednesday that two counties had voter files accessed by Russia ahead of the presidential election in 2016.

Mike Pence and Mitch McConnell eulogize Richard Lugar with Capital Challenge memories
Vice president and Senate majority leader were among dignitaries in Indianapolis for Lugar’s funeral on Wednesday

It was fitting that Sen. Richard G. Lugar’s funeral service would take place the same day as the ACLI Capital Challenge race, and both Vice President Mike Pence and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell took full advantage of the fortuitous timing.

Pence, the former Indiana governor and congressman, and McConnell, from neighboring Kentucky, were among the dignitaries who made the trip to Indianapolis for the Wednesday afternoon funeral. The group traveling aboard Air Force Two included other lawmakers, as well as Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr.

Still no public timeline for Jared Kushner immigration plan
Presidential son-in-law briefed Senate GOP on details Tuesday

When White House senior adviser Jared Kushner came to visit Senate Republicans on Tuesday to reportedly discuss an immigration overhaul he is developing, he did not have a full plan ready to go for solving what his own party says is a crisis.

Multiple Republican senators said there was no evidence that the Trump administration has set a timeline for a public rollout, but Kushner, the son-in-law of President Donald Trump, did present some ideas that were new to many members of the conference.

These Senate Democrats want to ban stock trading by members of Congress
Sens. Brown and Merkley introduce legislation last week to prohibit trading in most cases

Two Democratic senators want to prevent a recurrence of ethically dubious stock trades by members of Congress by banning them altogether.

Sens. Jeff Merkley of Oregon and Sherrod Brown of Ohio want to bar lawmakers and senior aides from buying and selling individual securities. The reality is that many members of the House and Senate do own and trade stock in publicly-traded companies.

Pentagon moves $1.5 billion more to border wall
Senate Democrats, led by Durbin, are contesting the decision

Updated 4:02 p.m. | The Defense Department is taking $1.5 billion from what officials there are calling lower-priority programs and redirecting it toward projects aimed at securing the U.S.-Mexico border, according to a Pentagon budget document.

The shift brings to $2.5 billion the amount of defense money diverted to date for the border wall project, with up to $3.6 billion more to come from military construction projects under President Donald Trump’s national emergency declaration issued in January.

Ocasio-Cortez, Bernie Sanders promote cap on credit card interest rates
First major legislative proposal from Ocasio-Cortez gets backing from 2020 presidential hopeful

Updated 4:25 p.m. | Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez teamed up with Sen. Bernie Sanders Thursday to pitch a cap on credit card interest rates as part of new legislation.

“There is no reason a person should pay more than 15% interest in the United States,” Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., said in a tweet confirming the proposal. “It’s common sense — in fact, we had these Usury laws until the 70s.”

Schumer remembers ‘the deacon’ — Robert Pear of The New York Times
News of Pear’s death shook Capitol Hill on Wednesday

The Capitol was shaken Wednesday by the sudden death of one of the deans of the congressional press corps, Robert Pear of The New York Times. But perhaps no one in the Senate had known Pear longer than Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer.

Long before Pear was a well-respected expert on health policy and official Washington who spent four decades at The New York Times, and Schumer was a Democratic senator from New York, they were undergraduate classmates at Harvard.

Kamala Harris to push pay hikes for public defenders
California Democrat wants to bring parity with prosecutors

Sen. Kamala Harris is set to unveil a new effort Wednesday to boost the pay of public defenders, as part of an effort to improve legal services.

Under a bill that the California Democrat — and 2020 White House hopeful — is set to introduce, there would be new limits on the workload for lawyers working full-time as public defenders, and a path to bring defenders’ pay in line what what is earned by prosecutors.

McConnell already raising money after declaring ‘case closed’ on Mueller report
Message to Trump supporters: ‘Donate if you agree!’

After Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell came to the Senate floor Tuesday to declare “case closed” on alleged Trump campaign conspiracy with Russia, his 2020 re-election effort quickly started raising money.

“Mitch just told the Democrats to end their Russia conspiracy spectacle and accept there was no collusion. CASE CLOSED,” read a Tuesday morning fundraising message from the Kentucky Republican’s campaign.

In bashing Biden, did Kellyanne Conway break the law again?
Sen. Tom Carper seeks Hatch Act view of White House adviser's public statements about Biden

Sen. Thomas R. Carper is requesting a formal review of whether senior White House adviser Kellyanne Conway has again violated the federal law that’s intended “to prevent pernicious political activities.”

In question this time is whether Conway’s public statements, including from the White House lawn, about a potential 2020 foe of President Donald Trump, former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr., ran afoul of the Hatch Act — which limits political speech by federal employees, especially while on official time.

Trump selects Mark Morgan to lead ICE, but will he ever get a Senate hearing?
Morgan been appearing in recent weeks on Fox News to talk immigration, the Mueller report

President Donald Trump said Sunday that he has selected an Obama-era chief of the U.S. Border Patrol to be the next director of Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

“I am pleased to inform all of those that believe in a strong, fair and sound Immigration Policy that Mark Morgan will be joining the Trump Administration as the head of our hard working men and women of ICE,” Trump tweeted on Sunday. “Mark is a true believer and American Patriot.”

A day before the Kentucky Derby, senators announce proposal to ban doping in horse racing
Udall and Wyden will introduce legislation next week

A pair of Senate Democrats announced ahead of Saturday’s Kentucky Derby that they’re going to propose legislation to ban doping in horse racing.

Sens. Tom Udall of New Mexico and Ron Wyden of Oregon announced the revival of their legislation on Friday, with bill introduction expected next week.

Klobuchar plan to combat addiction draws on experience with her dad
Policy proposal comes as part of her 2020 presidential campaign platform

Sen. Amy Klobuchar’s mental health plan, unveiled Friday morning, draws on proposals from several of her Senate colleagues — and it’s also a highly personal quest for the senator.

One of the early major proposals of the Minnesota Democrat’s 2020 White House campaign, it calls for aggressive investments to support mental health and treatment for addiction, including an increased focus on early intervention. It also draws on her experience with her father’s alcoholism.

Dangerous flying beach umbrellas target of inquiry by New Jersey, Virginia senators
In letter to CPSC, senators note umbrella accidents that have led to injuries or death

Your pre-beach season public service announcement is brought to you by four Democratic senators from Atlantic coastal states, who are warning about the risks of flying beach umbrellas.

Sens. Robert Menendez of New Jersey and Mark Warner of Virginia, joined by their respective home-state colleagues Cory Booker and Tim Kaine, have asked the chairman of the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission what the agency is doing about umbrella safety. 

Road trip: Romney and Murphy the newest Senate Middle East travel team
Leaders of the Middle East subcommittee returned from countries including Israel and Iraq

As the leaders of the Senate subcommittee focused on foreign policy in the Middle East, Sens. Mitt Romney and Christopher S. Murphy might be spending a lot of time together overseas in the coming years.

The Republican from Utah and Democrat from Connecticut are back at the Capitol this week after spending the second half of the spring recess meeting with regional leaders in Israel, the Palestinian territories, Jordan and Iraq.