Niels Lesniewski

Senate votes to start debating Russia sanctions measure, but may lack votes to finish it
Joint resolution seeks to block sanctions relief for three Russian companies

Eleven Senate Republicans split from the Trump administration Tuesday afternoon, backing an effort by Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer to force a floor debate on sanctions on Russian firms.

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin had appeared at Tuesday’s Senate GOP lunch to make the case for letting sanctions relief for three sanctioned Russian companies to go forward.

Barr and Mueller are friends? Hearing unlikely to derail attorney general confirmation
 

Attorney general nominee William Barr (who previously served in the position under President George H.W. Bush) faced questions from the Senate Judiciary Committee on Tuesday about Special Counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election. The nominee's position on the investigation is a top priority for several senators. Despite Barr's past criticism of the investigation, the former attorney general called Mueller a good friend who would not engage in a “witch hunt.” 

Roll Call’s senior Senate reporter Niels Lesniewski takes a look at how Barr’s performance at the hearing suggests his nomination will likely proceed unimpeded.

Steven Mnuchin makes case to GOP to allow easing of sanctions on Russian companies
Visited Senate Republican lunch ahead of votes on Schumer resolution

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin is making the case to Senate Republicans that they should stop an effort to block sanctions relief against three Russian companies.

But as he left Tuesday’s Senate Republican lunch, Mnuchin did not seem certain about the vote count ahead of an expected Tuesday afternoon vote on a motion to proceed to a resolution disapproving of the sanctions relief proposed for En+ Group plc, UC Rusal plc and JSC EuroSibEnergo.

John Thune’s new whip office staff learning the ropes and getting to work
Office features a mix of veteran Senate and House aides

The Senate’s Republican majority has a new occupant of the whip’s office, and with it come some new people for senators and their staffs to interact with when trying to get legislation to the floor.

The leader of the operation for Majority Whip John Thune will be a familiar face from the South Dakota’s previous role as chairman of the Senate Republican Conference.

Schumer: no sanctions relief for Russian oligarch until Mueller finishes investigation
Senate minority leader plans to force Tuesday votes on disapproval of Trump administration plan

Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer plans to force votes Tuesday on an attempt to disapprove of sanctions relief against companies associated with Russian oligarch Oleg Deripaska.

Schumer, a Democrat from New York, said Monday that there should be no sanctions relief for the companies, despite some structural changes to the ownership, until Special Counsel Robert S. Mueller finishes his work investigating Russian election interference in the U.S.

Virginia senators concerned that shutdown could jeopardize security clearances
Furloughed workers cite compounding problems, such as health insurance lapse

ALEXANDRIA, Va. — Brian Uholik is a proud father of a new baby daughter, but he’s also a furloughed trial attorney at the Department of Justice.

Uholik was among the federal employees from Northern Virginia who met Friday morning with Sens. Tim Kaine and Mark Warner, both Democrats who have been pushing for a quick end to the partial government shutdown.

Harry Reid pushing for more UFO research
Wants a key senator to listen to stories from service members who claim sightings

Former Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid is lobbying his former colleagues to do more to study unidentified flying objects.

“I personally don’t know if there exists little green men other places, I kind of doubt that, but I do believe that the information we have indicates we should do a lot more study,” the Nevada Democrat said. “We have hundreds and hundreds of people that have seen the same thing — something in the sky, it moves a certain way.”

At union rally, Hoyer connects forcing feds to work without pay to slavery
As the shutdown continues, tensions heighten ahead of missed paychecks

As federal employees braced for their first missed paychecks starting Friday, tension over the government shutdown reached a fever pitch, with House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer equating forcing people to work without pay to slavery. 

Speaking Thursday to a rally of unionized federal employees and their supporters outside the AFL-CIO’s headquarters, the Maryland Democrat spoke of the “440,000 people that are being asked to work with no pay,” adding, “You know, back in the 1860s, they talked about working with no pay.”

Lindsey Graham: Trump attorney general pick will let Mueller finish Russia probe
William P. Barr makes the rounds meeting with key senators on Wednesday

The incoming chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee is confident President Donald Trump’s nominee to be attorney general is committed to letting the special counsel probe led by Robert S. Mueller III run its course.

William P. Barr, who previously served as attorney general during the presidency of George H.W. Bush, made the rounds Wednesday on Capitol Hill, where his meetings included visits to the outgoing and incoming chairmen of the Judiciary Committee.

Senate Democrats block debate on foreign policy legislation to put focus on shutdown
Vote demonstrated opposition to conducting other business while government remains partially closed

Before President Donald Trump was set to speak to the nation Tuesday night as part of his border security push, Senate Democrats mustered the votes to signal they were not interested in other legislating until there’s legislation to reopen the federal government.

The Democrats on Tuesday blocked movement on a package of Middle East policy legislation, including assistance to Israel, seeking to send a message that they will not support the chamber taking up other business until a partial shutdown ends.

Mueller protection bill reintroduced in the Senate, but still no prospects for floor time
Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has argued the bill is unconstitutional

The senators pushing legislation Special Counsel Robert S. Mueller III from any risk of improper termination by President Donald Trump are not giving up.

Their bipartisan legislation expired at the end of the last Congress, and they announced Tuesday that they were introducing it again, despite continued opposition from Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky.

Will Democrats stop the Senate from doing other legislating until the government shutdown ends?
Chris Van Hollen leads call to block other bills until the Senate votes on House-passed appropriations bills

Will Senate Republicans be stopped from working on anything else legislatively before the partial government shutdown ends?

Whether or not the Senate debates a new package of Syria sanctions and an effort to block boycotts of Israel this week could hinge on whether Maryland’s Democratic senators can convince their colleagues to do nothing until a deal is reached on ending the shutdown.

Trump administration approves plan for restroom cleanup, trash collection at national parks
Recreation fees will pay for basic operational support, Interior Department says

As the partial government shutdown enters Day 16, the restrooms at national parks are going to be cleaned.

Acting Interior Secretary David Bernhardt is moving to authorize the use of collected recreation fees at National Park Service sites to pay for basic operational support, which had been halted due to the shutdown.

Daines, Lankford to serve on both Appropriations and Finance
Last senator to serve on both panels was Henry Cabot Lodge Jr. in 1944

Sens. Steve Daines of Montana and James Lankford of Oklahoma will become the first senators since Henry Cabot Lodge Jr. in 1944 to serve simultaneously on the Appropriations and Finance committees, according to panel historical records reviewed by Roll Call.

The two Republicans received waivers from Senate GOP conference rules that limit senators to service on just one of the four so-called Super A committees — Appropriations, Finance, Armed Services and Foreign Relations.

Senate set to assert itself on Syria sanctions, Middle East policy early in 2019
New Syria sanctions appear to be among the top legislative priorities

The Senate is moving quickly to assert its point-of-view on U.S. policy regarding Syria and in the broader Middle East, and it could serve as a rebuttal to the decision by President Donald Trump to pull back U.S. forces from Syria.

Florida GOP Sen. Marco Rubio introduced the first piece of legislation on the first day of the new Congress (designated as S 1), and it could lay a marker  on the situation in Syria and the Middle East. The backers include the new chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky.

For Senate, a day of pomp and ceremony marred by shutdown clouds
As new Congress convenes, flap over government spending follows members

The Senate opened a new Congress Thursday with a partial government shutdown still underway. But the day was still reserved for more ceremony than substance.

After swearing-in the newly elected and re-elected senators on the Senate floor just after noon on Thursday as outlined in the Constitution, Vice President Mike Pence made his way to the Old Senate Chamber for the traditional photo ops and ceremonial swearings-in for most of the third of the Senate on the ballot this past November.

Dick Durbin says he’s running for Senate re-election in 2020, unofficially
Minority whip signaled he plans to seek a fifth term representing Illinois

Senate Minority Whip Richard J. Durbin said Thursday that he intends to run for re-election in 2020.

The Democrat from Illinois said he would be seeking a fifth term when asked during a CNN interview.

Senators Confirm Slew of Trump Nominees in Final Hours of 115th Congress
List does not include lifetime judicial appointments; next business will be in the new Congress

As a practical matter, the 115th Congress is finally history.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell made the announcement that the Senate will convene for a pro forma session at 11:50 a.m. Thursday, but there will be no real business until after noon arrives, when the new Congress begins, as outlined in the Constitution. 

Mitt Romney, Rand Paul Preview GOP Debate Over Donald Trump in New Congress
Paul speaks out against Romney’s criticism of the president ahead of swearing-in

Two Republicans with among the largest national profiles of senators in the new Congress aren’t wasting any time in drawing the contours of a debate that is sure to run over for the next two years.

Namely, the extent to which members of the Senate GOP hitch their wagons to President Donald Trump as an election cycle gets underway with a map that might be more favorable to the Democrats.

Ahead of Shutdown, GOP Senator Floats ‘Nuclear’ Option to Build Trump’s Border Wall
Sen. Steve Daines pitched rules change after House GOP voted to amend spending stopgap

When senators make their way back to the Capitol Friday to go back to the drawing board on government funding, there are sure to be some calls to change the rules to help get President Donald Trump the border wall.

Maybe even from Trump himself.