IRS hearings dominate week
No story dominated coverage in D.C. this week like the House hearings on the IRS targeting of conservative groups did. The House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, chaired by California Republican Darell Issa, held three days of hearings. IRS officials came under blistering criticism from both Republicans and Democrats on the committee.
Lois Lerner, the IRS official at the center of this storm, invoked her Fifth Amendment right not to testify, but before she did insisted she had done nothing wrong:
“I have not done anything wrong. I have not broken any laws,” said Ms. Lerner, who leads the IRS’s division on tax-exempt organizations. “I have not violated any IRS rules and regulations, and I have not provided false information to this or any other Congressional committee.”
On Thursday night, after refusing to resign despite being asked to do so, Lerner was placed on administrative leave by the IRS.
The IRS scandal is not one that appears to be going away anytime soon. For a more in depth look at how this scandal might impact politics and policy in D.C., please view the video here.
Immigration reform update
This week, the Senate Judiciary Committee voted to move comprehensive immigration forward to the floor of the Senate after a long and somewhat contentious five-day markup. Three Republicans joined 10 Democrats in voting to move the bill forward, five Senators – all Republicans – voted against the measure. Senator Orrin Hatch (R-UT), who had been heavily courted by supporters of immigration reform, voted in favor of the bill.
The Judiciary Committee considered more than 200 amendments over the course of the five-day markup, adopting 141, but the Gang of Eight that crafted the bill was able to hold together and fend off major changes to the legislation.
The most significant changes in the legislation came in the H-1B visa arena. In order to win the vote of Senator Hatch, the committee adopted amendments that dramatically increased the caps for high-skilled visas, regardless of domestic economic conditions, as well as easing recruitment standards on American businesses that utilize very few foreign workers.
Other changes relating to H-1B visas included the creation of a toll-free hotline for American workers to lodge complaints against employers violating the terms of the H-1B program as well as the doubling of the application fee (from $500 to $1000).
Most of the amendments offered by immigration reform opponents were defeated in committee. Senator Jeff Sessions (R-AL) and Senator Chuck Grassley (R-IA), two of the leading opponents of the bill, offered a slew of amendments – the overwhelming majority of which failed. Many amendments defeated would have added additional triggers before legalizing current illegal immigrants.
Comprehensive reform supporters in the Senate expressed optimism after the committee vote. Senator Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and Senator Jeff Flake (R-AZ) told reporters they believed the bill could pick up 70 votes on the Senate floor.
The full Senate could take up immigration reform as early as when it returns from the Memorial Day recess.
Immigration reform in the House
While the prospects for comprehensive immigration reform passing in the Senate improved this week, prospects in the House remain much murkier.
Congressman Bob Goodlatte (R-VA), chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, will be one of the most important men on Capitol Hill in the fight to pass comprehensive immigration reform. His committee held hearings on the Senate Gang of Eight bill this week, and Goodlatte made it clear he is not a fan.
Goodlatte said the Senate bill, “repeats many of the mistakes of the past,” and that it is “unlikely to secure the border.”
Goodlatte also criticized the Senate bill for placing what he sees as undue trust in the current administration, “which fails to enforce the laws already on the books.”
Late Thursday afternoon, House leadership released a statement that made it clear they would be taking a different approach then their colleagues in the Senate. The statement, from House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH), Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA), Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy (R-CA), Republican Conference Chairman Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-WA), and Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-VA) said:
“Our nation’s immigration system is broken – hurting families, our national security, and the economy, which is why reform is included in our plan for economic growth and job creation. While we applaud the progress made by our Senate colleagues, there are numerous ways in which the House will approach the issue differently. The House remains committed to fixing our broken immigration system, but we will not simply take up and accept the bill that is emerging in the Senate if it passes. Rather, through regular order, the House will work its will and produce its own legislation. Enacting policy as consequential and complex as immigration reform demands that both chambers of Congress engage in a robust debate and amendment process. Our nation’s immigration processes, border security, and enforcement mechanisms remain dysfunctional. The House goal is enactment of legislation that actually solves these problems and restores faith in our immigration system, and we are committed to continuing the work we’ve begun toward that goal in the weeks and months ahead.”
House approves Keystone Pipeline (again)
This week, by a vote of 241 to 175, the Republican-controlled House of Representatives approved the 1,700 mile long Keystone XL Pipeline. The pipeline, if constructed, would carry heavy oil from Canadian tar sands to refineries on the Gulf Coast.
This vote marks the seventh time the House has approved the Keystone XL Pipeline. President Obama put the project on hold a year before the 2012 election, saying it needed further review – a move that pleased his environmental supporters.
President Obama denied a permit for the project requested by Canadian builder TransCanada after Republicans pushed through a bill giving him two months to decide on it. TransCanada has since submitted a new permit application, but despite the seven House votes to approve the project, its status is exactly where it was two years ago: pending a decision from the State Department, which has jurisdiction because the pipeline crosses the U.S.-Canadian border.
This most recent vote by the House is unlikely to force President Obama’s hand on the issue. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) has given no indication that he plans to give the legislation floor time and despite some Democratic support in the Senate, the bill does not have the votes necessary to overcome a filibuster.
Second term Cabinet updates
Charlotte Mayor Anthony Foxx, President Obama’s pick to replace Ray LaHood as Secretary of Transportation, breezed through his Senate hearing on the way to what is seen to be easy confirmation.
Penny Pritzker, the President’s nominee for Secretary of Commerce, had a tougher time this week when her finances came into question during a Senate confirmation hearing. Despite the bumpy week, Pritzker is still expected to win confirmation.
Republicans continue to hold up several other nominees -- including Thomas Perez for Labor Secretary and Gina McCarthy for EPA Administrator -- prompting Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid to once again discuss the possibility of making changes to filibuster rules.
Charts and graphs
The Keystone Pipeline
The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) outraised the National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC) $5.4 million to $5.1 million in April.
The National Republican Senatorial Committee outraised the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee for the first time this cycle, raising $3.56 million compared to the DSCC’s $3.54 million.
President 2016 – Because it’s never too early
Many of Hillary Clinton’s team from her unsuccessful 2008 Presidential bid said they would not return if the former First Lady makes a second bid in 2016, including former chief strategist Mark Penn and former campaign manager Patti Solis Doyle.
A look ahead:
The House and Senate are in recess next week.
Washington by the numbers:
$74 billion - The amount of profits that tech giant Apple shielded from U.S. tax laws between 2009 and 2012 by setting up subsidiaries in Ireland.
“What I really wanted to ask was why the hell I have to keep updating apps on my iPhone.” – Sen. John McCain during a Senate hearing on Apple.
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