By Dan McGowan
PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – Three former U.S. attorneys – including current U.S. Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse – held a press conference Tuesday urging city voters to reject former Mayor Vincent A. “Buddy” Cianci’s bid to return to City Hall.
By Dan McGowan
PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – A who’s who list of Rhode Island’s political establishment turned out to support Democrat Jorge Elorza at a fundraiser Thursday, pledging to do whatever it takes to help the 37-year-old former Housing Court judge defeat Buddy Cianci in the race for Providence mayor.
By Ted Nesi
PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – Rhode Island’s congressional delegation is taking a cautious approach to the state’s debate over whether to jettison HealthSource RI for the federal Obamacare marketplace, saying it’s a matter for state lawmakers to decide.
• Related: Feds drop demand for $4.6M to fund HealthSource RI (May 27)
By Ted Nesi
PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – U.S. Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse is making a campaign swing through Iowa later this month – not because he’s running for president, but to call attention to climate change ahead of 2016.
Whitehouse’s office confirmed Wednesday the senator will visit Iowa and Nebraska for three days starting March 17 to talk with local activists about global warming as the Hawkeye State prepares to once again play its key role in choosing the Democratic and Republican nominees for president.
Anytime a prominent politician visits Iowa in the years leading up to a presidential election it sparks speculation that he or she is running for president. But in an interview, Whitehouse adamantly ruled that out.
By Ted Nesi
PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – U.S. Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse said Monday he’s cautiously optimistic that Senate Democrats and House Republicans can reach an agreement during high-stakes budget talks aimed at keeping the government open and reducing the impact of mandatory across-the-board spending cuts.
A conference committee was created in the bipartisan deal that ended this month’s government shutdown, and ordered to craft a federal spending blueprint by Dec. 13. Whitehouse, a member of the Senate Budget Committee, is the panel’s only member from Rhode Island, Massachusetts or Connecticut.
• Related: Watch U.S. Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse on Newsmakers (Sept. 29)
U.S. Sen. Jack Reed has plenty of campaign cash. All he needs now is an opponent.
Reed, a Democrat who is up for re-election next year, had $2.84 million in his campaign war chest as of Sept. 30, up from $2.57 million on June 30, according to his quarterly filing with the Federal Election Commission.
Reed raised $425,902 and spent $150,040 during the third quarter, the filing said. His donors included former Secretary of Defense William Cohen ($600), prominent mediation lawyer Kenneth Feinberg ($1,000), Clinton confidante Harold Ickes ($1,000), former CVS Caremark CEO Tom Ryan ($1,000) and a host of PACs.
Reed’s camapign committee spent $1,332 at the Aspen Meadows Resort in Aspen, Colo., and $507 at the Intercontinental Hotel in Austin, Texas, as well as $815 on “event expenses” with The Podesta Group, the influential Washington lobbying firm founded by Democratic powerbrokers John and Tony Podesta.
Here’s the video in two parts, via YouTube:
What do you think? Who won?
• Related: Whitehouse will debate Ted Cruz on CNN’s ‘Crossfire’ Thursday (Oct. 9)
U.S. Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse will debate U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas – who has become one of the most prominent Republicans in the country for leading the GOP’s shutdown fight – on Thursday’s evening edition of “Crossfire,” the venerable political program CNN recently revived. The program airs at 6:30 p.m.
“The senators and the hosts will debate the latest developments in the partial government shutdown and the looming congressional battle over raising the federal debt ceiling,” a CNN spokeswoman said in an email. Newt Gingrich and Van Jones will also be on the show.
It should be quite a clash of views.
Cruz is a rising Republican star in Congress already being discussed as a possible 2016 presidential candidate, and he thinks the Affordable Care Act is a grave threat to the future of the United States. Whitehouse is, of course, Rhode Island’s second-term junior senator and a vocal liberal Democrat who feels more free than ever to speak his mind after his landslide re-election victory last November.
By Tim White
PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – All four lawmakers in Rhode Island’s congressional delegation will forgo their pay if federal workers lose their wages as a result of the government shutdown, WPRI.com has confirmed.
By Tim White
PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – U.S. Sen. Jack Reed said Friday he’s concerned that “extreme elements” of the Republican Party in the U.S. House of Representatives may be pushing the country toward a government shutdown next Tuesday.
• Related: Whitehouse: Prepare for possible government shutdown (Sept. 23)
By Tim White
EAST PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – U.S. Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse said Monday people should be prepared for the federal government to shut down on Oct. 1, saying there is “sufficient enough chance” it could happen.
• Video: Watch today’s full interview with U.S. Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (Sept. 23)
By Ted Nesi
PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – U.S. Sen. Jack Reed said Monday he still hasn’t decided whether to support a request for authorization to attack Syria, a sign President Obama has yet to win over one of his own party’s most senior military experts. U.S. Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse has stayed silent about Syria since Aug. 31.
• Related: Sen. Whitehouse: US must help Syria as France helped US in 1700s (Jan. 22)
Surveying the diminished clout of Massachusetts’ congressional delegation, Stonehill College’s Peter Ubertaccio writes for The Boston Globe:
The Bay State now ranks last in Senate seniority, and no member of the Massachusetts congressional delegation holds a committee chair or leadership position in either the Senate or the House. For the first time since early 1919, no member of our House delegation has served with a speaker from Massachusetts. …
Senator Edward Kennedy’s death in 2009 ruptured an important historical axis upon which the Commonwealth so depended for its influence. …
Why does this matter? Seniority, leadership, and clout bring two key benefits: prioritizing federal dollars and articulating political values. …
There is no easy solution to our dilemma. It requires the continued cultivation of political leaders who see their futures within the institutions they now call home.
This is a real challenge for Massachusetts. When I asked U.S. Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse in January what makes an effective senator, his first response was: “Seniority, which you can’t do much about – it is what it is – but as time goes by you need to be ramping it up the match your seniority.”
U.S. Sen. Jack Reed is getting some backup from two of his fellow Southern New England Democrats as he battles to change a bipartisan compromise on student-loan rates.
U.S. Sens. Elizabeth Warren and Sheldon Whitehouse on Tuesday sent email blasts to their campaign supporters in a bid to rally support for Reed, who is seeking to amend the loan legislation to cap students’ interest rates at 6.8%, lower than the 8.25% currently envisioned. The bill could be voted on as soon as today.
“Senator Jack Reed’s amendment is the only plan on the table right now that guarantees student loan interest rates won’t skyrocket above their current levels,” Warren wrote in an email pushing subscribers to sign up on Reed’s website in support. “We need to pass this amendment for our kids and grandkids.” The subject line of Warren’s email said: “The whole system stinks.”
“Unfortunately, our opponents would rather profit off our students than invest in them – so Jack is going to need all of us to stand with him to win this fight,” Whitehouse wrote in his email. “I’ve joined a group of Senators to work to pass Senator Reed’s amendment. But we need your help before this week’s vote.”
The emails are another sign of the increasing closeness of the Rhode Island and Massachusetts U.S. Senate delegations now that Warren and the newly elected Ed Markey have joined Reed and Whitehouse in Washington. All four are down-the-line liberals, and they share many of the same policy passions, notably financial regulation for Reed and Warren and climate change for Whitehouse and Markey.
• Related: Jack Reed pushing to overhaul interest rates on student loans (May 9)
U.S. Sens. Jack Reed and Sheldon Whitehouse will both start filing their campaign-finance reports electronically, beginning with the latest one for the quarter that ended June 30, their spokesmen told WPRI.com this week.
The addition of Reed and Whitehouse means 17 senators are now filing their reports online – 13 Democrats, two independents who caucus with the Democrats, and two Republicans. Rhode Island is one of only three Senate delegations in which both senators file digitally, along with Montana, California and Vermont.
Senators, unlike lawmakers in the U.S. House, still have the legal right to submit their campaign-finance reports on paper. The Secretary of the Senate delivers the paper copies to the Federal Election Commission, whose employees must manually input the data into the FEC’s online database before they can be reviewed.
By Ted Nesi
PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – Gov. Lincoln Chafee announced Monday Rhode Island will roll out President Obama’s health law under the brand name HealthSource RI, with less than three months to go before consumers can start buying insurance in the new online marketplace it creates.
One of the big remaining questions, however, is how much the HealthSource RI insurance plans will cost.
• Related: Chart: How health insurance will work in RI once Obamacare starts (June 12)
The Washington Post’s E.J. Dionne has a column today about the debate over surveillance, and one of the voices in the piece is that of U.S. Sen. Jack Reed (who also expressed concerns to WPRI last week):
That we’re now more inclined to question the national security state should not surprise anyone. “In the period immediately after the attacks of 9/11, the American people were willing to give the government broad power to keep them safe,” Sen. Jack Reed (D-R.I.), one of Congress’s most thoughtful voices on national security, said in an interview. “Now, more than a decade later, it’s entirely appropriate that Americans are asking about the balance between security and privacy.”
Reed believes that we still need extensive surveillance programs. But he was also in the minority last December in supporting an earlier version of the Merkley proposal on the FISA court decisions. He also favored another amendment, proposed by Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), that would have required the director of national intelligence to submit a report to Congress and the public on the impact of the revised FISA law on the privacy of U.S. citizens.
This is a rare issue that divides Reed and his junior colleague, Sheldon Whitehouse.
Reed voted yes but Whitehouse voted no on the two measures from December that Dionne references – the Merkley amendment to disclose legal justification for surveillance and the Wyden amendment to require a privacy report. As I wrote in Saturday’s column, Whitehouse’s views may relate to his past service on the Intelligence Committee, his time in law enforcement and his general trust in the federal government.
• Related: Sen. Whitehouse defends Obama on surveillance programs (June 7)
By Ted Nesi
PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – U.S. Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse defended the Obama administration’s use of surveillance in terrorism investigations on Friday, breaking with fellow progressive lawmakers who have harshly criticized the president’s tactics this week.
By Ted Nesi
PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – Rhode Island’s congressional delegation slammed the Internal Revenue Service on Monday for giving special scrutiny to conservative groups, but U.S. Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse suggested the scandal reflects a broken national campaign-finance system.
By Ted Nesi
PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – President Obama, Congressman David Cicilline and other Democrats were propelled to victory last November by a surge in voting by Hispanic and black Rhode Islanders as well as a sharp drop in participation among white citizens, a WPRI.com analysis of new Census data shows.
The Census data reveals 32,000 Hispanic Rhode Islanders voted in last fall’s presidential election, up from 20,000 in 2008 and just 13,000 in 2004. It also shows 30,000 black Rhode Islanders went to the polls on Nov. 6, up from 27,000 in 2008 and 17,000 in 2004. Both groups’ vote totals more than doubled in eight years.
Yet even as Hispanic and black turnout soared to new highs, voter participation among white non-Hispanic Rhode Islanders dropped precipitously. The report shows only 400,000 whites voted in Rhode Island in 2012 – the fewest since tracking began in 1996, down from 451,000 in 2008 and 431,000 in 2004.
Three of the four members of Rhode Island’s all-Democratic congressional delegation will take aim Wednesday at someone who’s an unusual target for them: President Obama.
U.S. Sen. Jack Reed, U.S. Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse and Congressman David Cicilline are among the eight members of Congress co-hosting a summit on Capitol Hill to criticize a proposal in Obama’s latest budget that would trim Social Security benefits by switching to a measure of inflation known as “chained CPI.”
Rhode Island’s entire delegation slammed the policy when it emerged, and Cicilline has garnered national attention for introducing a resolution that would have Congress express formal disapproval of chained CPI. U.S. Sens. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts and Bernie Sanders of Vermont are also among the summit’s hosts, giving it a decidedly New England flavor.
There were 207,122 Rhode Island residents receiving Social Security benefits in December 2011, the most recent month for which figures are available – meaning nearly 20% of state residents are on Social Security. Two-thirds of Rhode Island’s beneficiaries were 65 or older, while 35,905 were disabled and 15,704 were children. The Rhode Islanders’ combined Social Security benefits totaled $236 million that month.
The congressional event at 12:30 p.m. will be streamed live online by Strengthen Social Security, a coalition of unions and progressive groups that supports increasing benefits.
• Related: RI congressional delegation slams Obama over Social Security (April 10)
All four Democrats – usually loyal defenders of the president – issued statements Wednesday criticizing Obama for his proposal to use a different measure of inflation, known as “chained CPI,” to calculate Social Security benefit increases, which would reduce payments over time compared with current law.
The harshest critique came from U.S. Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, a leading liberal in the chamber. “The so-called ‘chained CPI’ proposal included in President Obama’s budget is nothing more than a benefit cut disguised behind technical jargon,” he declared.
Whitehouse said he thinks the way Social Security currently calculates inflation already “shortchanges” senior citizens and should be changed to increase benefits – the exact opposite of Obama’s proposal. “I made a promise to the people of Rhode Island that I would always oppose cuts to Social Security, and I’m going to keep that promise,” Whitehouse said.
U.S. Sens. Jack Reed and Sheldon Whitehouse were among the 79 senators who voted Thursday night to get rid of a tax on sales of medical devices passed in 2010 to help fund President Obama’s health reform law.
The two Rhode Island senators joined 31 of their fellow Democrats and all 45 Republicans in voting to repeal the 2.3% excise tax on medical devices, which took effect Jan. 1. Getting rid of it would cost the federal government $29 billion from 2013 to 2022, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, a left-leaning Washington think-tank that opposed repealing it.
Whitehouse and another stalwart liberal, Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, were among those who sided with the device industry on the repeal measure, which was introduced by Republican Orrin Hatch of Utah and has been the subject of a heavy lobbying effort.
Stephen Lane, chairman and chief venture officer of the Providence-based medical-device firm Ximedica, said at a manufacturing forum last year co-hosted by Congressmen David Cicilline and Jim Langevin that the tax was causing his industry to move production to Asia. Cicilline and Langevin voted to keep the tax, and Cicilline clashed over the question with his Republican opponent Brendan Doherty in a WPRI 12 debate last fall.
It looks like U.S. Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse will get another chance to pass his “Buffett Rule.”
A growing number of reports from Washington indicate top Senate Democrats will make a version of the Buffett Rule – which would set a minimum tax rate for millionaires – a key part of their proposal to avert the so-called “sequester” of mandatory spending cuts set to take effect next month.
The Buffett Rule started out as an idea in an op-ed by Warren Buffett. After President Obama mentioned it in last year’s State of the Union address, Whitehouse quickly introduced legislation to put the measure into law. Whitehouse’s bill died in April when it failed to overcome a filibuster.
To pass the measure under normal Senate filibuster rules, Democrats would need every senator in their 55-member caucus to vote in favor and then win over five Republicans. That seems unlikely. But the idea’s continued prominence is another sign that Whitehouse has a feel for the legislative zeitgeist.
As for the fiscal impact, the CBO said Whitehouse’s “Buffett Rule” bill would raise $47 billion over 10 years. Whitehouse himself included the Buffett Rule in his new plan [pdf] to offset the sequester without spending cuts earlier this week, though he acknowledged the whole proposal was dead on arrival.
• Related: Not one, not two, but 18 views on Whitehouse’s ‘Buffett rule’ (April 16)
Zack Colman reports for The Hill:
Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) and Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) on Thursday outlined a slate of climate change actions that President Obama could execute with his own authority.
The lawmakers conveyed a bleak outlook for climate legislation this Congress, noting considerable Republican opposition in the House. But they said Obama’s climate comments during his Monday inaugural address raised the prospects for administrative action to address the issue. …
Whitehouse, Waxman and Rep. Edward Markey (D-Mass.) laid out a menu of options for executive action on climate change in a Thursday letter to Obama [pdf]. Among them were moves federal agencies could take to curb greenhouse gas emissions and enlisting national laboratories to pump out clean-energy technology. …
Whitehouse also suggested the federal government could use its procurement powers to strike deals with cleaner, sustainable contractors.
Whitehouse has made clear in the weeks since he won re-election last fall that one of his core priorities during his second term will be pushing Washington for action on climate change, as well as new efforts to protect the health of the sea through his bipartisan Senate Oceans Caucus.
“I think it’s going to take some hammering to open the window [of what's possible] up a bit, but the public is now so clearly behind doing something about climate change that it puts the Republican opposition in a very different – and I think, before long, untenable – position,” Whitehouse told me during an interview in his Capitol Hill office earlier this month.
With that in mind, on Thursday Whitehouse also restarted the series of weekly floor speeches about climate change he’s been giving for the past year. The video of yesterday’s edition is here.
(photo: Whitehouse’s office)
By Ted Nesi
PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – U.S. Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse said Tuesday the United States needs to step up its support for opposition rebels in war-torn Syria, arguing they need America’s help just as the U.S. needed France to win independence from Britain.
“We were a country that started as freedom fighters, working against a regime that we overthrew in order to establish our freedoms and liberty,” Whitehouse told WPRI.com after returning from the region. “And when we did that one of the great powers of the world then came to our aid, and we never forgot it.”
“Years later, when we were called to arms in Europe, we answered the call saying, ‘Lafayette, we are here’ – over a century later we had remembered,” he said, referring to an American battle cry during World War I. “Syria’s in a place like that now. There are freedom fighters fighting for their freedom against a brutal and murderous tyrant.”
Whitehouse’s comments came after he and U.S. Sen. John McCain led a bipartisan delegation of senators on a trip through the Middle East last week that included stops in Afghanistan, Israel, Jordan and Egypt.
The conflict in Syria began in the spring of 2011, at a time when protests against autocratic governments erupted across the region with the Arab Spring movement. Whitehouse accused Syrian President Bashar al-Assad of “indiscriminately” massacring and torturing civilians who oppose him, and said the regime could use chemical weapons.
“That can’t last,” he said. “Syria’s coming apart, and risks becoming a real power vacuum into which extremist and jihadi sentiment will pour if we don’t take action.”
While Whitehouse said he isn’t urging an invasion of Syria by American soldiers, he urged the Obama administration to do more to support the rebels there by providing small arms, ammunition, humanitarian aid and support for neighboring Jordan and Turkey. He also suggested the possibility of a no-fly zone policed by international allies.
Whitehouse isn’t known as a hawk on foreign policy; he was a vocal opponent of the Bush administration’s handling of the Iraq war during his successful 2006 Senate campaign. But he said the Syria situation requires America involvement.
“We have really critical interests there,” Whitehouse said. “The Middle East is potentially a tinderbox, and Syria is potentially a spark that lights it off. Syria is a country with a lot of good traditions; it’s never been extremist ideologically, and I think it’s an important place to step back the ambitions of Iran in the region.”
“This is a chance for us to be the great power that comes to the relief of Syria so that 100 years from now we’re still remembered as the country that helped them get their freedom,” he added.
Whitehouse also met with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who looked set to win re-election when voters in his country went to the polls on Tuesday. Israeli leaders are “very concerned” about Iran’s nuclear ambitions, Whitehouse said, but they’re more concerned at the moment with the turmoil in Syria than with launching an attack on Iran.
“I think they’ve got a time window before the Iranian government could actually construct a nuclear weapon,” he said. “I don’t see [an Iran attack] as imminent, but I think they certainly want to leave it visibly on the table.”
Whitehouse said his visit to Afghanistan left him confident that the United States is on track to withdraw most of its troops by the end of 2014, as President Obama has promised, and impressed with the commitment of local forces there.
Whitehouse returned from his overseas trip in time to take his seat among the dignitaries for President Obama’s inauguration on Monday at the Capitol. He said the ceremony was surprisingly exciting for a re-election and had high praise for Obama. “I think the president gave one of his best speeches ever,” he said.
Whitehouse was particularly pleased that Obama spoke at length about tackling climate change, one of the senator’s major policy priorities and an issue on which he’s been critical of the president for acting too cautiously.
“As the Ocean State, Rhode Island has a lot at stake in the climate change discussion – Sandy was a forewarning of what we have at risk if we don’t get ahead of this climate problem,” he said.