Biden Swears In Manchin and Coons, Newest Members of US Senate

Photo Courtesy - Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- Vice President Joe Biden on Monday came to Capitol Hill to swear in the winners of two special elections, Democrats Chris Coons of Delaware and Joe Manchin of West Virginia.
At 4:06 p.m. EST, Biden made Coons and Manchin the newest members of the U.S. Senate. Minutes later, Biden turned to the parliamentarian for direction on what to do next, asking, “Where am I now, coach?”
Coons will replace Sen. Ted Kaufman, who served out the remainder of the loquacious Biden’s term, while Manchin will replace Carte Goodwin, who came to the Hill last summer after the death of Sen. Robert Byrd. 
But another special election-winner was conspicuously absent from Monday’s swearing-in. Republican Mark Kirk of Illinois defeated Democrat Alexi Giannoulias in that state’s special election earlier this month, but Kirk will not be sworn in for another two weeks.
Once Kirk is sworn in to replace Democrat Roland Burris, the Democrats’ majority in the Senate will shrink by one.

Copyright 2010 ABC News Radio 


Alaska Senate Race Remains in Limbo

Photo Courtesy - Getty Images(JUNEAU, Alaska) -- The Alaska Elections Division is now in its sixth day of counting write-in ballots, but there’s little clarity as to which candidate will emerge victorious in the high-profile race for the U.S. Senate seat.

As of Sunday night, Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, had 89.3 percent of the votes, with eight percent of votes that were challenged and counted.

The results could come down to just a handful of votes, which means Republican candidate Joe Miller is fighting every vote that could be deemed questionable. The Tea Party-favored candidate currently has 87,517 votes while Murkowski has 78,697.

Miller, who has Sarah Palin’s support, has continued to assail the elections division for counting misspelled ballots that show voter intent, even though a judge last week struck down his attempts to stop the ballot counting.

"We need one standard for everyone,” Miller said in a statement. “It makes no sense to create all these new exceptions just for Lisa Murkowski. I have said from the beginning, I want a fair election and I want the law followed. I don't think that is too much to ask."

This week, the elections division will also start counting absentee ballots, estimated to be between 8,600 to 8,800.

Murkowski on Monday returned to Washington, D.C. even as the battle for her Senate seat raged on thousands of miles away.

Copyright 2010 ABC News Radio 


Virginia Thomas Denies Reports She's Leaving Liberty Central

Photo Courtesy - ABC News(WASHINGTON) -- A spokesperson for Virginia Thomas, the wife of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, denies published reports that Thomas is planning to leave or change her role at Liberty Central, a conservative political group she co-founded in part to energize Tea Party activists.

Sarah Field, the chief operating officer of Liberty Central, said in a statement that a Washington Post story suggesting the group would merge with the conservative Patrick Henry Center and that Thomas would step aside is "inaccurate."  However, Fields left open the possibility that Thomas may indeed change her role in the future.

"Precisely because of Liberty Central’s effectiveness, many of these opportunities did present themselves to us and they are still in the discussion stages," Field wrote.

Thomas came under fire a few weeks ago for an article on Liberty Central’s website originally attributed to her that suggested the recently passed health care legislation was unconstitutional. Critics of Thomas suggested that given her comments, her husband might need to recuse himself from the issue if it were to come before the court.

Liberty Central released a statement at the time saying it "assiduously avoids” taking positions on the "constitutionality" of issues.

Copyright 2010 ABC News Radio 


GOP Transition Chief: ‘Full Vacuuming’ Coming; No Changes Planned to Ethics Process

Photo Courtesy - GOPLeader dot gov(WASHINGTON) -- Republicans are welcoming their newly elected soon-to-be colleagues to Washington this week with the promise of major changes to the way the House of Representatives does business.

The head of Republican transition efforts, Rep. Greg Walden, R-Ore., told ABC News Monday that the freshman class will help veteran members usher in the procedural overhaul voters say they want.

“We're inviting this energy. This place needs a full vacuuming. It needs to be cleaned out,” Walden said.

The newly elected members “bring the energy and the enthusiasm of the American people,” he added. “They're here with a lot of energy, and they’re going to get to use that energy to help us change this whole process.”

Walden said Republicans would “absolutely” give Democrats more power to influence legislation -- and secure votes on their proposals -- than Democrats allowed Republicans over the past four years.

Walden also rejected suggestions that the Tea Party classes need “controlling” by GOP leadership.

“This isn't about controlling them,” he said. “We were all out helping elect these people. We helped raise the money for them. We went out and campaigned for them in their districts. We helped recruit them.

“The notion that we don't know who these people are is really kind of humorous on the inside. They're part of our team. We're part of their team. We're one team that's going to move this country in a new direction.”

And while many insiders expect Republicans to do away with the independent Office of Congressional Ethics – put in place by Democrats, but reviled by many members of both parties – Walden said that hasn’t been a focus so far.

“Our focus on the transition is looking at other things that are much more important. And that is how the House operates, how to open it up. We're not focused in on the ethics side of things at all,” Walden said. “We're not working on that issue at all.”

Copyright 2010 ABC News Radio 


Charles Rangel Seeks Delay, But Ethics Trial Moves Forward

Photo Courtesy - ABC News(WASHINGTON) -- Embattled New York Democratic Rep. Charles Rangel on Monday defiantly demanded that the House Ethics Committee delay his pending public trial because he hasn't been given enough time to set up a defense fund to pay for legal representation.

But after a closed-door meeting to consider the request, the committee of four Democrats and four Republicans pledged to move forward, despite Rangel's threat to walk out on the proceedings.

Rangel, who had initially appeared without lawyers by his side, told the committee that his legal team had to withdraw in October because he was unable to pay the nearly $2 million in legal bills. He insisted moving forward now would be unfair.

Rangel also said that while he has asked repeatedly for the opportunity to clear his name, he only learned one week ago the details of the case. But committee chairwoman Rep. Zoe Lofgren, D-Calif., said Rangel has had enough time to explore means to pay for counsel and consider the evidence and charges against him.

Rangel, who resigned as chairman of the Ways & Means Committee in March, faces 13 counts of violating House rules, including improperly fundraising for a community center in his name and failing to disclose more than a half million dollars in assets on financial disclosure forms.

Other charges allege he improperly obtained four rent-controlled apartments in New York City; failed to disclose financial arrangements for a villa at the Punta Cana Yacht Club in the Dominican Republic; and, improperly stored a vehicle in the House parking lot.

A panel of three nonpartisan lawyers for the ethics committee began presenting evidence gathered over the two year investigation. The trial is expected to last two weeks.

Copyright 2010 ABC News Radio


McConnell Reverses Course, Backs GOP Earmark Ban

Photo Courtesy - Office of Sen. Mitch McConnell(WASHINGTON) -- The top Senate Republican Mitch McConnell on Monday changed his stance and vowed to support an effort by other GOP lawmakers in the House and Senate to implement a party ban on earmarks, the special projects that members of Congress insert into spending bills.

“I know the good that has come from the projects I have helped support throughout my state. I don’t apologize for them. But there is simply no doubt that the abuse of this practice has caused Americans to view it as a symbol of the waste and the out-of-control spending that every Republican in Washington is determined to fight,” McConnell said in a speech on the Senate floor as Congress reconvened for a lame-duck session set to focus on spending and taxes.

“And unless people like me show the American people that we’re willing to follow through on small or even symbolic things, we risk losing them on our broader efforts to cut spending and rein in government,” he said. “That’s why today I am announcing that I will join the Republican leadership in the House in support of a moratorium on earmarks in the 112th Congress.”

The earmarks issue has highlighted a divide within the Republican Party, a divide that Democrats would have loved to accentuate. Old guard members such as McConnell had opposed the ban, on the grounds that it would “save no money” and give the executive branch “a blank check” to decide where federal money gets spent.

“Every president, Republican or Democrat, would like to have a blank check from Congress to do whatever he chooses to do,” McConnell told the conservative Heritage Foundation in Washington earlier this month.  “You could eliminate every congressional earmark and you would save no money,” he argued, even though the anti-spending group Citizens Against Government Waste said Congress had earmarks totaling $16.5 billion in fiscal year 2010.

Now, faced with a growing number of his own party getting behind the ban in the wake of the election, the Kentucky lawmaker has changed his stance.

The GOP vote, expected on Tuesday afternoon, will be conducted by secret ballot and will be non-binding, so senators would not have to follow through on it.

Both parties have long used earmarks to direct money to their districts, with members of the appropriations committees in both chambers particularly eager to continue the process so they can keep directing money to favored causes. But now the long-standing use of earmarks appears in jeopardy.

Copyright 2010 ABC News Radio


Erskine Bowles: I Didn’t Tweak the President

Photo Courtesy - ABC News(NEW YORK) -- "I didn't tweak the president." That's what Erskine Bowles, co-chairman of the president’s deficit commission told ABC News Monday when asked about his quote in The Wall Street Journal when he said, “I told people in the White House I had spent more time listening to people in the opposition party than they had done as a whole group.”

“Well, I don’t think I tweaked him. What I said is the only way you find out where people are is to spend literally hours and hours, months and months listening to them and to try to find that common ground, trying to build up trust and that is what we tried to do,” Bowles said on Good Morning America.

At the same time the commission released its draft recommendations, Congress is considering an extension to the Bush era tax cuts which would cost around $4 trillion over 10 years -- the same amount the commission was tasked with cutting from our deficit. But Bowles said the panel’s proposals would reduce the deficit and cuts taxes in a more responsible manner.

Bowles, who also serves as the president of the University of North Carolina, called our nation’s rising debt a “cancer” that would “destroy our country.”  Bowles and his co-chair, Republican Alan Simpson, are the only two of the 18 member panel to sign onto the proposals which include raising the social security retirement age, cuts to discretionary spending, and a reduction in popular tax cuts.

Bowles said he is “hopeful” that others will join.

Copyright 2010 ABC News Radio


Will Congress Vote on DREAM Act for Illegal Immigrants in 2010?

Photo Courtesy - ABC News(WASHINGTON) -- They came through for him during a tight re-election campaign in Nevada. Now, Hispanic voters are looking to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid to return the favor. Reid has promised a Senate vote this year on a small piece of immigration legislation known as the DREAM Act, which would give hundreds of thousands of undocumented immigrants a conditional path to legal residency.

As Congress reconvenes this week for the final session of the year, Reid now has roughly a month to make good on his promise. Many immigrants and immigrant advocates, particularly Hispanics, have been disappointed by Congress' inaction on legislation to address the situation of millions of the country's undocumented immigrants, particularly those who are young children.

Republican opposition to efforts to legalize undocumented immigrants, a packed end-of-year legislative agenda and a bleak track record for controversial bills during lame-duck sessions all cast doubt on chances of the bill's passage this year.

The DREAM Act would grant legal status to immigrants who complete college or at least two years of military service and maintain "good moral character." It would apply to immigrants younger than 36 years old who arrived in the U.S. illegally as children under the supervision of their parents.

But it's unclear whether the administration will push behind the scenes in the weeks ahead to make it a legislative priority. The Congress already faces challenging debates over whether to extend the Bush tax cuts, fund the federal government through 2011, and approve a controversial defense spending bill.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi has decided not to list DREAM Act as a priority for this week, a senior Democratic aide told ABC News. But it could come up after Thanksgiving.

According to the nonpartisan Migration Policy Institute, about 2 million of the nearly 11 million undocumented immigrants currently living in the U.S. could be eligible for legalization under the DREAM Act. The group also estimates, however, that only 825,000 of those immigrants would ultimately take advantage of the law if it were enacted.

Copyright 2010 ABC News Radio


Senator DeMint, 13 Others Pledge to Support Earmark Moratorium

Photo Courtesy - DeMint [dot] Senate [dot] Gov(WASHINGTON) -- When Congress returns to work Monday, a group of Republican senators is going to immediately embark on a controversial effort to ban earmarks, those pet projects that lawmakers tack on to legislation, in an effort to help their home states.  But turning campaign season momentum against earmarks into a full-scale ban is easier said than done.

Leading the anti-pork charge is South Carolina Sen. Jim DeMint, who this week called on his GOP colleagues to vote on Tuesday to change party rules and ban earmarks.

"Republicans will never be able to stand up to the big-spending policies being pushed by President Obama and congressional Democrats if we're addicted to pork," DeMint said.  "And, we're never going to be able to get the American people to give us a second chance if we don't lead by example and stop business as usual."

DeMint said 13 other GOP senators have pledged to support the earmark moratorium, including a number of newly-elected members.  The 13 senators are Tom Coburn of Oklahoma, John Ensign of Nevada, Mike Enzi of Wyoming, John Cornyn of Texas, Jeff Sessions of Alabama, Bob Corker of Tennessee, Richard Burr of North Carolina, Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania, Marco Rubio of Florida, Rand Paul of Kentucky, Mike Lee of Utah, Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire, and Ron Johnson of Wisconsin.

On Tuesday, the Senate Republican Conference will vote on whether or not to change internal GOP rules to ban party members from seeking earmarks.

Copyright 2010 ABC News Radio


President Obama to 'Redouble' Effort on Core Principles

Photo Courtesy - ABC News(WASHINGTON) -- En route to Washington after a 10-day trip overseas, President Obama was introspective about his first two years in office.  The president told reporters aboard Air Force One that he had an “obsessive focus” on policy and he will now “redouble” efforts to get back to his core principles. 

Obama said he “neglected” things that matter a lot to Americans in his rush to get major legislation passed. He explained those things as maintaining a bipartisan tone, dealing with earmarks, making sure that policy decisions are fully debated and shaping public opinion.  He can better focus on these principals now, the president explained, because the economy is more stable. 

The president plans to meet with Congressional leadership this week and said he expects that even though his party lost badly in the midterm election, Republicans will work with him to get things done.

Obama repeated his belief that the country can’t afford to extend the Bush tax cuts for people earning more than $250,000 a year.

“I believe it is a mistake for us to borrow $700 billion to make tax cuts permanent for millionaires and billionaires,” he said. 

Reflecting on his stop in Asia, the president said he leaves with the impression that America will need to step up its game because countries across the Asian continent are working to better educate their workforces, rebuild their economies and enter into new markets around the world.

Copyright 2010 ABC News Radio

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