Congress

Senate confirms Esper to be Defense secretary
The vote ends an eight-month period during which the massive bureaucracy was led by a series of acting leaders

Chiarman Sen. Jim Inhofe, R-Okla., left, shakes hands with Secretary of Defense nominee Mark Esper before the start of Esper’s confirmation hearing in the Senate Armed Services Committee on July 16, 2019. He was confirmed by the Senate Tuesday. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

The Senate on Tuesday confirmed Mark Esper to be the next Defense secretary, 90-8, bringing to an end an eight-month period during which the massive bureaucracy was led by a series of acting leaders.

Esper, who has served as Army secretary since 2017, follows James Mattis as President Donald Trump’s second Senate-confirmed Defense secretary.

Kyrsten Sinema invokes memory of John McCain in maiden speech
Arizona Senator uses address to advocate for her legislation to combat veteran suicide

Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz., delivered her maiden speech on the floor on Tuesday. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)

In her maiden speech on the Senate floor, Arizona Sen. Kyrsten Sinema invoked the courage of the late Sen. John McCain and recounted the tragic story of a veteran’s suicide that might have been prevented with better access to appropriate mental health care.

Sinema, a Democrat, said she is committed to making sure veterans don’t feel trapped, as Sgt. Daniel Somers did when he committed suicide in 2013, and shining a light on the 20 veterans who die everyday as a result of suicide.

The Democrats who voted to keep impeachment options open
Why those who do not favor impeachment yet voted against blocking articles of impeachment

Rep. Lori Trahan, D-Mass., voted against tabling Rep. Al Green's impeachment articles to keep the option on the table but she does not yet support opening an impeachment inquiry. (Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)

A House vote Wednesday to block Texas Rep. Al Green’s articles of impeachment against President Donald Trump led to some contortions from Democrats yet to support impeachment or opening an inquiry, but mostly came down to this: keeping those options open. 

About two dozen Democrats who had not been on the record in favor of impeachment proceedings voted with Green against tabling, basically killing, his articles. A total of 95 Democrats voted that way, but most of those members had previously called for Trump’s impeachment or an inquiry. 

House Democrats apologize to India ambassador for Trump’s ‘amateurish’ claim about Kashmir
Trump claimed Indian prime minister asked him to mediate Kashmir dispute between his country and Pakistan

House Foreign Affairs Chairman Eliot Engel, D-N.Y., left, and Rep. Brad Sherman, D-Calif., attend a committee markup in Rayburn Building on May 17, 2018. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Democrats on the House Foreign Affairs Committee spoke with India’s ambassador to the U.S., Harsh Shringla, on Monday to apologize for President Donald Trump’s claim that he was asked by the Indian prime minister to mediate the Kashmir territorial conflict between his country and Pakistan.

“Everyone who knows anything about foreign policy in South Asia knows that India consistently opposes third-party mediation [regarding] Kashmir,” Rep. Brad Sherman of California tweeted Monday. “Everyone knows [Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi] would never suggest such a thing. Trump’s statement is amateurish and delusional. And embarrassing,” he wrote.

Trump’s budget chief tries to sell spending and debt limit deal to skeptical conservatives
Fiscal hawks blast agreement: ‘Washington has all but abandoned economic sanity’

Acting OMB Director Russ Vought Vought is viewed as closely aligned with spending hawks in the GOP. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Acting White House budget chief Russell Vought appeared on the Fox News Channel Tuesday morning to defend the two-year spending and debt limit accord reached Monday, which had immediately been savaged by conservatives for costing too much and doing nothing to rein in long-term deficits.

“I love the concern of the conservatives who are bringing attention to the problems that we have with fiscal responsibility in this town. This president put forward more spending cuts than any president in history, and we have been negotiating for five months,” Vought said. “We’re now up against a deadline, heading into the August recess, where we need the debt limit extended, we need to continue to rebuild the military.”

USDA seeks to narrow eligibility for food stamps
Proposal looks to tighten eligibility for people who receive noncash benefits

Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue said the draft rule will close a loophole that allows people with gross incomes above 130 percent of the poverty level to become eligible for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program and potentially qualify for food stamps. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)

The Trump administration will push ahead with a proposal to tighten food stamp eligibility for people who receive certain noncash benefits from a federal welfare program, a move that could end aid for up to 3 million people.

Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue said the draft rule published in Tuesday’s Federal Register will end what he and congressional Republicans say is a loophole that allows people with gross incomes above 130 percent of the poverty level to become eligible for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program and potentially qualify for food stamps through the program.

Senators plot drug bill, Pelosi mulls drug price negotiations
Proposals target Medicare drug prices

Senate Finance Chairman Charles E. Grassley, R-Iowa, on Tuesday offered a details on a drug price bill. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Senate Finance Chairman Charles E. Grassley on Tuesday unveiled details on a long-anticipated drug price bill and scheduled a Thursday committee markup.  Republicans indicated a cost estimate of the measure predicted it would lower consumer and government costs.  

The final bill is expected to contain provisions that would slow the growth of Medicare’s prescription drug spending, limit the cost-sharing for people receiving Medicare, and make it easier for state Medicaid programs to pay for expensive treatments.

Louisiana police officers fired over AOC post on Facebook
Ocasio-Cortez says Trump’s rhetoric that has incited threats is an ‘authoritarian’ tool to silence critics

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., responds to reporters questions in Rayburn Building about derogatory comments made by President Trump about her and other freshmen members last week. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

A police officer in Louisiana has been fired for writing on Facebook that Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez should be shot. 

The police chief in Gretna, a New Orleans suburb, announced at a news conference Monday that Officer Charlie Rispoli was fired for writing the post and another officer, Angelo Varisco, was fired for “liking” it, WBRZ reported.

Where are the members of the 115th Congress that left under scandal?
Only two scandal-tarred lawmakers from last Congress are still serving

Montana Republican Ryan Zinke, who was Interior secretary until last December, is now a managing director at cybersecurity and blockchain company Artillery One. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

As the #MeToo movement took hold in the past two years, nine members of the 115th Congress relinquished their seats amid allegations of sexual misconduct. That’s more than any Congress since at least 1901, based on an analysis of congressional departures by FiveThirtyEight.

Two other lawmakers left under scrutiny for financial or ethical improprieties, two who joined the Trump administration were later forced to resign their Cabinet posts, and two representatives indicted last year are still in office fighting the charges.

What counts as ‘foundational’ tech?
As Commerce gears up for export debate, definitions remain in dispute

An attendee participates in a augmented reality demonstration to show how lidar, or light detection and ranging, works during a briefing on autonomous vehicles in June. (Alex Wong/Getty Images file photo)

In the coming weeks, the Commerce Department plans to announce a notice seeking comments on how it should draw up export control rules for so-called foundational technologies, similar to an effort the agency launched in November 2018 for a category called “emerging” technologies.

The rules were mandated after Congress passed the 2019 defense authorization act calling on the Commerce Department to establish export controls on “emerging and foundational technologies” that are critical to U.S. national security. But tech companies, universities, and research labs across the country continue to be alarmed that overly broad export restrictions could ultimately hurt American technological superiority.

4 things to watch when Mueller testifies
Former special counsel is unlikely to disclose any new information Wednesday

Former special counsel Robert S. Mueller III will face the House Judiciary and Intelligence committees Wednesday. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Rarely does a congressional hearing have a longer, more dramatic buildup than former special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s appearances Wednesday before the House Judiciary and Intelligence committees — and the American public via television cameras.

The main question: Will his testimony change anything?

Census question may be dead, but Trump’s backup plan could still reshape political map

The president and his administration are marching forward on a Republican plan to upend the way legislative districts are drawn nationwide. (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

President Donald Trump surrendered his legal fight earlier this month to ask about citizenship on the upcoming census, but his administration is marching forward on a Republican strategy that could upend the way legislative districts are drawn nationwide to the benefit of the party.

Trump nodded to policy issues such as health care and education as reasons he issued a July 11 executive order for the government to compile citizenship information in a different way. And he accused “far-left Democrats” of being determined to “conceal the number of illegal aliens in our midst.”

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

Strains of marijuana are on display at The Apothecary Shoppe marijuana dispensary in Las Vegas. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)

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. 

White House, Hill leaders agree on two-year budget deal
‘This was a real compromise in order to give another big victory to our Great Military and Vets!’ Trump tweeted

President Donald Trump alongside Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., left, and Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., talks to the media about Robert Mueller’s report upon arriving for the Senate Republican Policy luncheon in the Capitol on March 26, 2019. Trump tweeted Monday he and both Senate and House leaders had agreed on a budget deal. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

House leaders released legislation late Monday that would implement the two-year accord on appropriations and the debt ceiling struck earlier in the day by the White House and top Democrats and Republicans on Capitol Hill.  

The 26-page draft bill, expected to get a House vote Thursday, calls for raising limits on discretionary spending by $321 billion over two years, compared to the strict caps imposed under a 2011 deficit reduction law.

What we know so far about the budget, debt limit deal
CQ Budget podcast, Episode 119

Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., wants to clear the debt deal this week before the chamber departs for the August recess. (Caroline Brehman/CQ Roll Call)

Congress is racing to complete work on some big-ticket items before adjourning for the August recess. CQ Roll Call’s budget and appropriations reporter Kellie Mejdrich reports on a deal to extend the debt limit and set spending levels for two years. And finance reporter Doug Sword explains why the House plans to vote on a bill to shore up struggling pension plans.  Meanwhile, the Senate plans to give final approval of a permanent compensation fund for victims of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

Show notes: