Story lines from the new Congress

Story lines from the new Congress 

Posted: 8:55 pm Thursday, January 8th, 2015

By Jamie Dupree

The first week of business for the 114th Congress was a reminder of the many political cross currents that lawmakers in both parties face. Here’s a look at just a few of those story lines I found this week in the halls of Congress.

Dan Webster of Florida

Before Tuesday, I was one of the few reporters who had any reason to chase after Rep. Dan Webster (R-FL), but after he got a dozen votes for Speaker – and found himself possibly bounced off the powerful Rules Committee – Webster was a popular figure in the hallways. A former Florida state House Speaker and state Senator who seems more of a GOP Establishment figure, Webster didn’t really fit the usual type of political resume for the Tea Party, but some conservatives rallied around him as an alternative to Speaker John Boehner.

On Friday morning, Webster was to meet with Boehner to talk about whether he would remain on the Rules Committee, the powerful panel whose GOP members are appointed by the Speaker.

“You know, it’s his choice; it’s his committee,” Webster told me Thursday just off the House floor, arguing that he’s been loyal to the GOP leadership – even with his quixotic bid for Speaker.

Rod Blum of Iowa

In the weeks before the November elections, Speaker John Boehner made his way across the country, helping GOP candidates for Congress in a number of states. One of his late stops was in Iowa, where Republicans would win three of four House seats in that state. One of the victors was Republican Rod Blum, who was happy to let his supporters know back in October that Boehner was backing him.

But, when the roll was called on Tuesday for Speaker of the House, Rep. Rod Blum (R-IA) threw Boehner overboard, instead casting his ballot for Florida’s Dan Webster.

“I must follow the will of the eastern Iowans who rejected politics as usual in November and are calling for change in D.C.,” Blum said in a statement. We’ll see if the Speaker makes a return visit to Blum’s district in 2016.

Gwen Graham of Florida

The daughter of former Governor and Senator Bob Graham (D), Gwen Graham might have had the most impressive victory in the 2014 elections for Democrats, as she ousted a GOP incumbent in a year when Democrats were on the defensive around the nation. All along, the Florida Democrat talked about finding ways to bring about bipartisan cooperation, and on her first vote, she refused to back House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi, instead voting for fellow Rep. Jim Cooper of Tennessee (who also did not vote for Pelosi.)

“Absolutely no disrespect to Leader Pelosi, but I think our country needs new leadership on both sides of the aisle,” Graham told me off the House floor after the vote.

It wasn’t Graham’s only vote where she broke ranks with leading Democrats, as she also backed a GOP bill to end the 30 hour/full-time work week rule under the Obama health law.

If she continues that type of voting record, Graham would be one of the most conservative Democrats in all of Congress.

The first filibuster of the 114th Congress

For the last eight years, Democrats have chafed at Republican delaying tactics in the Senate, going so far as to use the “nuclear option” to change the rules in order to limit filibusters against nominations by President Obama. But all of the Democratic complaints about the GOP use of the filibuster may now go out the window as the Republicans took over the majority this week. On the first day, Democrats blocked plans for a hearing on the Keystone pipeline; by Thursday, they objected to the start of debate on that bill, forcing Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) to file cloture on the question of whether Senators should take up the Keystone measure.

Earlier in the week, Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid had accused Republicans of “gratuitous obstruction and wanton filibustering,” as he said the Democrats would not repeat that.

But, by Thursday afternoon, we had our first filibuster of the 114th Congress. And if history is any guide, it certainly won’t be the last, as Democrats will now embrace such tactics, while Republicans grumble.

“It’s been overwhelming”

I wrote earlier in the week about how the start of the Congress was a celebration, especially for newly-elected members – and I was reminded of that many times in recent days, as you could feel the sense of achievement as you spoke to some of the freshmen. Here are the words of Rep. Buddy Carter (R-GA):

“It’s been overwhelming. You know, there were a couple of times when I almost broke down in tears – I mean, seriously. You can’t imagine for a guy like me from Pooler, Georgia, the son of a paper mill worker who worked shift work, worked hard – the first one to graduate from my family – and now here I am in the United States Congress. To be able to represent the people of the First District – I’m a product, I’m born and bred in the First District. The values of the First District are my values and those are the values that I bring to Washington, D.C.”

Goodbye Senator Coburn

Just a few weeks ago, retiring Sen. Tom Coburn (R-OK) held up several pieces of legislation, accusing colleagues in both parties of trying to approve bills that were either duplicative or would cost the taxpayer millions in unnecessary costs. But now that Coburn is gone, lawmakers are giving Coburn the back of the hand.

With Coburn safely back in Oklahoma, the Senate voted 94-3 to approve a terrorism risk bill that he had blocked in December. And lawmakers are also moving on another bill that the Oklahoma Republican stopped, on suicide prevention help for veterans.