Republicans elect new leadership in House
Late Thursday afternoon, House Republicans gathered to elect a new Majority Leader and a new Majority Whip. The election came as the result of Rep. Eric Cantor's (R-VA) shocking primary loss and his subsequent decision to resign as Majority Leader. When the smoke cleared and the Republicans emerged from the members only vote, Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) was announced as the new Majority Leader and Rep. Steve Scalise (R-LA) as the new Majority Whip.
Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy, the odds-on favorite, defeated the more conservative Rep. Raul Labrador. Each employed a popular conservative to deliver a nominating address—Rep. Tom Graves was in McCarthy's corner while Rep. Jim Jordan sided with Labrador.
McCarthy won—and likely by a large margin. Though some members pushed for the tally to be released, the proposal was dismissed, and Labrador, in an act of sportsmanship, asked that the record reflect a unanimous win for McCarthy.
In the race for Majority Whip, three candidates—Reps. Scalise of Louisiana, Peter Roskam of Illinois and Marlin Stutzman of Indiana—would compete for the post, but all eyes were on Scalise. He had been the favorite throughout, amassing an enormous team of supporters and running a well-oiled whipping machine that saw lawmakers making midnight calls and aides with clipboards counting heads at Thursday's meeting.
No one doubted Scalise was the front-runner coming in. The only question was whether he could win a majority—116 of the 231 votes being cast—to claim an outright victory and avoid a second ballot. Roskam and Stutzman knew they couldn't beat him initially; their only hope was to force a head-to-head runoff, and then hope to steal a huge bloc of supporters from the eliminated last-place candidate.
They were nominated in alphabetical order. Rep. Trey Gowdy of South Carolina, who is leading a select committee investigation on the events in Benghazi, praised his panelist, Roskam, as a collaborator who brings members together. Rep. Kevin Brady of Texas, a soft-spoken conservative who commands respect throughout the conference, vouched for the personal decency of his roommate, Scalise. Finally, Rep. Tom Reed, an alumni of Stutzman's class of 2010, touted the Hoosier's commitment to an open policy-making process—and drew the loudest cheers of the afternoon by saluting Cantor, their outgoing leader.
But the strength of Scalise's coalition was too much to overcome and the Louisiana Congressman was elected on the first ballot.
Conservatives tried to delay leadership elections
House conservatives failed Wednesday morning with a last-ditch effort to delay Thursday's leadership elections by one week. Conservatives had quietly been talking for several days about attempting to move back Thursday's election, saying the short turnaround—which would be held just eight days after Majority Leader Eric Cantor announced his forthcoming resignation—was not fair to candidates who are not as well-known throughout the conference.
Rep. Ted Yoho, a conservative second-term lawmaker, tackled the issue head-on Wednesday morning following a scheduled "candidates forum," proposing a resolution to push back the election by one week. Such a delay would have benefited Reps. Raul Labrador and Marlin Stutzman, who were underdogs in their respective contests for majority leader and majority whip—in part because they have had little time to organize and communicate with colleagues across the House GOP.
Leadership put it up for a voice vote, and the resolution failed—but not by a wide margin, according to its proponents.
The candidates’ forum offered the five candidates for the two leadership jobs a chance to make their first and only pitch to the entire GOP Conference before Thursday afternoon's vote. But there were no fireworks; indeed, according to people in the room, the contenders were telling their colleagues behind closed doors almost exactly what they've been saying in public.
That said, attendance at the forum was conspicuously sparse. Many members were seen filing into the meeting room, located in the House basement, at least an hour into the scheduled event. Sources in the room said the first period of the meeting, dedicated to a question-and-answer session with McCarthy and Labrador, was attended by only 50 or 60 lawmakers—the vast majority of whom were Labrador supporters there to voice frustrations with the current leadership team.
Click here to view the Washington Business Brief video, Leadership Changes on the Hill
Dr. Oz comes under fire in the Senate
Senator Claire McCaskill (D-MO)—the chairwoman of the Senate Commerce Subcommittee on Consumer Protection—went after Dr. Mehmet Oz—the enormously popular talk-show host—for endorsing some questionable nutrition supplements.
While his day-time health show reaches millions, Dr. Oz has come under fire for endorsing some nutrition supplements with dubious efficacy. One of those products was green coffee bean extract, a substance derived from coffee that is marketed as a weight-loss supplement.
In a 2012 broadcast Dr. Oz claimed, “This little bean has scientists saying they have found a magic weight-loss cure for every body type. It's green coffee beans, and, when turned into a supplement—this miracle pill can burn fat fast.”
Never mind the only scientists saying that were ones paid by a company that produces green-coffee extract. After the broadcast, Oz's likeness has appeared on countless Web advertisements for products that included the ingredient.
In a business sense, Oz doesn't endorse these products, and has fought back against companies using his image and words on advertising. But still, they proliferate. Last month, the Federal Trade Commission brought suit against a green-coffee extract company for bogus weight-loss claims, which included Oz's "miracle" endorsement. A 2013 New Yorker profile was particularly scathing in its criticism of Oz's scientific scrutiny. "By freely mixing alternatives with proven therapies, Oz makes it nearly impossible for the viewer of his show to assess the impact of either; the process just diminishes the value of science."
On Tuesday, Oz was on Capitol Hill to testify on a Senate hearing about such weight loss scams, and to address his role in providing fodder for false advertisements.
During the hearing, Oz was adamant that he is not involved in the sale of any nutritional supplement, and said he has stopped using overblown words like "miracle" on his program. But Oz demurred in answering McCaskill's questions, which included the equally sharp "why would you cheapen your show by saying things like that?" and the assertion that "the scientific community is almost monolithic against you."
Democrats introduce net neutrality bill
The Online Competition and Consumer Choice Act was introduced Tuesday by Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT) and Rep. Doris Matsui (D-HI). Democrats, however, acknowledge the bill isn’t going to become law but say they are introducing the legislation to send a message to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC).
"We put forth the bill to put increased pressure on the FCC to ban paid-prioritization agreements," an aide to a bill supporter explained.
Net neutrality is the principle that all Internet traffic should be treated equally. The FCC first enacted net-neutrality rules in 2010 that barred Internet service providers from blocking any websites or from "unreasonably" discriminating against any traffic.
A federal court struck those rules down earlier this year, and now FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler is trying to rewrite them in a way that can survive future court challenges. His proposal would still bar Internet providers from blocking websites but would allow providers to charge sites for faster service as long as the agreements are "commercially reasonable."
Internet activists, major Web companies such as Google, and many Democrats on Capitol Hill fear that change could create a two-tiered Internet that benefits the richest corporations and limits free speech.
Wheeler expected to take criticism from Republicans, who are skeptical of the government telling broadband providers how to manage their networks. But the growing opposition to his proposal from Democrats could leave the FCC chief in a tenuous political position. Even the White House has offered little support, noting that the FCC is an "independent agency."
Wheeler needs the votes of both Democrats on the five-member commission to enact his proposed regulations. But those commissioners, Jessica Rosenworcel and Mignon Clyburn, might not be eager to help the chairman if he's all alone on the issue.
The Online Competition and Consumer Choice Act would instruct the FCC to enact rules banning paid prioritization within 90 days of the bill becoming law. The bill would also call for rules banning Internet providers from favoring content they own or are affiliated with.
The bill avoids the contentious debate over the FCC's authority. Many net-neutrality supporters argue that the only way to enact rules that can survive in court is to reclassify Internet providers as "common carrier" utilities under Title II of the Communications Act. But Republicans and Internet providers argue that utility-style regulation of the Internet would discourage investment and stifle economic growth.
Senate committee passes Keystone legislation
Senator Mary Landrieu (D-LA), who is facing a tough reelection battle for her Senate seat, successfully steered pro-Keystone legislation through the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee on Wednesday. Republicans – who voted for the legislation – questioned the motives.
"I do question the purpose of today's vote," said Sen. John Barrasso, who heads the Senate Republican Policy Committee, ahead of the vote in the committee that Landrieu chairs. "With all due respect this vote seems more like a cheerleading exercise than a meaningful effort to get Keystone built."
"The obstacle of getting Keystone built is Senator Reid and members of the Senate who continue to elect him majority leader," Barrasso said.
Barrasso voted for the bill, which would approve the project that has long been stalled under White House review. He was joined by other Republicans as well as Landrieu and fellow Democrat Joe Manchin of West Virginia, while other Democrats opposed it.
Landrieu said she'll work to get a vote in the full Senate, although Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) was noncommittal at best about the idea on Tuesday.
Transportation in focus
Ending Saturday postal service looks like an unlikely pay for
House Republicans are abandoning a plan to pay for a short-term patch to the Highway Trust Fund with savings from ending Saturday postal service.
The House is now considering other pay-fors including another round of pension changes and increases in Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation (PBGC) premiums.
The plan to use the postal service savings as a short-term patch collapsed after Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) - the leading proponent of the plan - lost his primary last week.
There had been widespread Republican unhappiness with the postal service plan. Republicans did not like the idea of financing a one-year funding patch by using savings spread out over 10 years from cutting most Saturday mail deliveries. Conservative groups, such as Heritage Action and the Club for Growth, quickly denounced the idea. Democrats had rejected the idea from the start so House leaders could not afford to lose many Republican votes.
House Republicans now are looking at another round of “pension smoothing” combined with another increase in premiums to the PBGC, which guarantees the pensions of workers with defined benefit retirement plans.
The pension smoothing idea would allow a complex accounting change that would result in companies contributing less to pension plans, thereby paying more in taxes. The Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget and other fiscal hawks have derided the maneuver as a budgeting “gimmick.”
The premium increases would shore up the underfunded PBGC and would be scored as government revenue.
But business groups, including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the National Association of Manufacturers, are adamant in their opposition to higher premiums and have ramped up their lobbying efforts now that they are once more under consideration. They have no position on pension smoothing.
Senators propose gas tax increase
Senator Bob Corker (R-TN) and Senator Chris Murphy (D-CT) are proposing a 12 cent a gallon increase in the gas tax to shore up the soon-to-be bankrupt Highway Trust Fund.
While increasing the gas tax, particularly before the November elections, is a tough sell on the Hill, Corker said he came forward to propose this measure because he was fed up with the short-term fixes and gimmicks that were being bandied about by lawmakers.
“I finally got to a point that I realized that this cannot go on,” Corker told reporters at a news conference. “It’s time for us to finally deal with this issue.”
“We are sick and tired of Congress talking about fixing our transportation funding shortfall and avoiding specifics simply because the solutions are politically uncomfortable,” added Murphy, Corker's Democratic co-sponsor. “Money is not going to fall off trees or sprout out of the ground to fill the funding gap that exists today.”
The Murphy-Corker plan would hike gasoline and diesel taxes by six cents in each of the next two years, for a total increase of 12 cents. That would raise roughly $164 billion over the next decade, filling the highway fund’s revenue shortfall. The plan also would tie the gas tax to inflation, using the Consumer Price Index to keep the fund in the black.
The taxes now stand at 18.4 cents a gallon for gasoline and 24.4 cents per gallon for diesel. Congress hasn’t raised the gas tax since 1993.
New York 13th Congressional District: Rep. Charlie Rangel (D-NY) leads his primary opponent - Adriano Espaillat - by 13 points according to a NY1/Siena College poll. Espaillat won the endorsement of the New York Times this week.
North Carolina: Senator Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) leads former Senator Scott Brown (R-NH) 49 to 39 percent according to a new Suffolk poll.
Mississippi: State Senator Chris McDaniel (R-MS) leads incumbent Senator Thad Cochran (R-MS) by 12 points according to a poll this week. Since neither candidate reached 50 percent in the primary, the two will face off in a June 24 runoff.
South Dakota: Former Republican Senator Larry Pressler (I-SD), running as an independent for Senate this cycle, signed onto a brief in a federal court case in South Dakota supporting same-sex marriage.
Connecticut: Liberal blogger Jonathan Pelto is collecting signatures for a 3rd party run for governor. Pelto's appearance on the ballot could siphon-off votes from Governor Dannel Malloy (D-CT) and throw the race to Republican Tom Foley (R-CT).
Pennsylvania: A new poll shows incumbent Governor Tom Corbett (R-PA) trailing his Democratic opponent businessman Tom Wolf (D-PA) by 20 points. Wolf leads 53 to 33 percent.
Tuesday, June 24 – The House Judiciary Committee's Regulatory Reform, Commercial, and Antitrust Law Subcommittee will hold a hearing on The Proposed Merger of AT&T and DirecTV at 10:30 a.m. in 2141 Rayburn.
Wednesday, June 25 – The Senate Judiciary Committee will hold a hearing on The Voting Rights Amendment Act, S.1945: Updating the Voting Rights Act in Response to Shelby County v. Holder at 10:00 a.m. in 226 Dirksen.
Wednesday, June 25 – The Senate Rules and Administration Committee will hold a hearing on Election Administration: Examining How Early and Absentee Voting Can Benefit Citizens and Administrators at 2:00 p.m. in 301 Russell.
Thursday, June 19 – The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee will hold a hearing on How to harness a game-changing resource for export, domestic consumption, and transportation fuel at 2:30 p.m. in 366 Dirksen.
41 percent - President Obama’s approval rating in an NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll.
“I’m more Jewish than you think I am. I read the part of the Bible that said the Jews are God’s chosen people.” -- Texas Gov. Rick Perry (New York Times Magazine)
"The campaign manager who helped unseat House Majority Leader Eric Cantor last night is a 23-year-old man who interviewed for a job at Panera Bread last month. Said Cantor, 'Is that position still available?'" –Seth Meyers
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