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)
In the battle over the government shutdown, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi continues to receive support from all but one of the four Southern New England Democrats who serve in the U.S. House.
Congressmen David Cicilline, Jim Langevin and Joe Kennedy III all stood by Pelosi on Thursday and voted against measures sponsored by the Republican leadership that would have restored funding for veterans and the National Guard. Democrats are refusing to agree to those and other GOP proposals that would only partly end the government shutdown that began Tuesday.
Only 157 of 435 congressmen – all Democrats – voted against the funding for veterans, a roll-call vote tailor-made for attack ads in next year’s campaign. The local exception was Democratic Congressman Bill Keating, who represents Cape Cod and is occasionally mentioned as a possible Republican target in 2014.
Keating broke with Cicilline, Langevin and Kennedy on Thursday to back both military funding measures, after also breaking with the Democrats Wednesday and voting to restore funds for the National Institutes of Health. But he joined the other Democrats in opposing a GOP bill to provide funding to reopen the national parks.
Each of the measures is expected to be dead on arrival in the Democratic-controlled U.S. Senate.
The bills to restore funding for popular federal functions were designed by GOP leaders to make their opponents feel the heat, and the fact that Cicilline, Langevin and Kennedy voted no anyway suggests they are among the most loyal – and politically safe – Democrats in the country.
Democrats hold an advantage in all four congressmen’s districts: President Obama won 66% of the vote in Cicilline’s district, 60% in Langevin’s, 57% in Kennedy’s and 56% in Keating’s last year.
Jake Sherman and John Bresnahan report for Politico:
[F]ollowing a POLITICO report that lobbyists are getting access to congressional buildings when the public is having trouble getting in, some lawmakers are outraged. Rep. David Cicilline (D-R.I.) is circulating a letter he wants to send to Boehner, asking that access to the House office buildings be limited to “‘essential’ staff and constituents.”
“Not only are lobbyists causing extraordinary delays for constituents waiting to get into our buildings, but they are also being given access to public buildings while the average American is unable to visit the U.S. Capitol building, all of our national monuments and parks, and our national museums,” Cicilline wrote in a letter being circulated to Democratic chiefs of staff. “While our nation’s veterans are being turned away from our national memorials, K street lobbyists are free to roam the hallways of Congress. We strongly feel that registered federal lobbyists should not be able to conduct ‘business as usual’ in the halls of Congress until the shutdown is over.”
Meanwhile, U.S. Sen. Jack Reed is expected to deliver a speech on the Senate floor around noon calling on Speaker Boehner to let the U.S. House vote on a “clean” bill to fund the federal government.
Update: Monte Ward, president of the American League of Lobbyists, fired back at Cicilline on Thursday:
Banning any constituent or citizen from the United States Capitol and the congressional office buildings to keep them from meeting with their elected officials is unconstitutional.
While we respect the Congressman’s frustration for his constituents, we urge him to remember that all citizens, including lobbyists, have a First Amendment right to redress their grievances. Even though the federal government has shut down, the Constitution and Bill of Rights still stand.
The shutdown is an inconvenience for every citizen, lobbyists included. We wish Congress the very best for a legislative outcome that will reopen the government and put America back in business.
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.
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.”
Congressmen Jim Langevin and David Cicilline continued to rebuild their campaign war chests this spring – and in Langevin’s case used some of the proceeds to dine out – after the incumbent Democrats spent heavily on their re-election bids last year.
Langevin brought in $147,908 and spent $90,113 during the three months ended June 30, his campaign disclosed Monday in a Federal Election Commission filing. Langevin finished the second quarter with $235,567 on hand, up from $177,772 on March 31.
Langevin reported spending campaign money at a long list of restaurants, including $4,000 on March 27 at Local 121 in Providence; $2,090 on Feb. 26 at 701 Pennsylvania Avenue Restaurant in Washington; $400 on Feb. 18 at The Capital Grille in Boca Raton, Fla.; and $129 on May 6 at McCormick and Schmick’s in Providence.
Langevin’s campaign took out an unsecured loan for $53,625 from Greenwood Credit Union in February at a 0.0299 interest rate, due in 2019.
Congressman David Cicilline has tapped Peter Karafotas, a veteran aide to U.S. House Democrats from the Midwest, as his new chief of staff, WPRI.com has confirmed. Karafotas will oversee Cicilline’s Washington and Pawtucket offices.
Karafotas worked for Michigan Congressman Dale Kildee from March 2009 until Kildee’s retirement last year, closing out as co-chief of staff, after an earlier stint as the 18-term Democrat’s spokesman.
Karafotas also worked as deputy chief of staff and communications director for Illinois Congresswoman Jan Schakowsky, an outspoken liberal and member of House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi’s leadership team, from 2007 to 2009.
“Peter brings a wealth of knowledge and firsthand managerial experience with him, and I am excited to welcome such a talented and experienced individual to my team,” Cicilline said in a statement confirming the new hire.
Scott Fay, a former Ted Kennedy aide, has been Cicilline’s chief of staff since the former Providence mayor was elected to succeed Patrick Kennedy in November 2010. Fay, who earned roughly $120,000 last year, is leaving Capitol Hill after more than a decade. He helped Cicilline navigate a politically difficult first term.
“Scott has demonstrated the highest levels of professionalism and skill, and I will miss his good counsel and great work,” Cicilline said.
Karafotas lives in Arlington, Va., with his wife and two daughters. He grew up in Illinois and graduated from the University of Colorado at Boulder in 1999. He was a vice president with the Chicago consulting firm Adelstein Liston, a Chicago public-affairs firm from 2005 to 2006, according to his LinkedIn profile.
Fierro, 33, is leaving his job as Congressman David Cicilline’s district director after almost two years to take a new position as Gov. Lincoln Chafee’s pick to chair the three-member R.I. Board of Review, a quasi-judicial agency that hears appeals of decisions about unemployment and disability benefits, WPRI.com has confirmed.
The Chafee administration nominated Fierro on June 13, according to Wednesday’s R.I. Senate Journal. Cicilline’s office confirmed that Fierro has accepted the position, which is subject to Senate confirmation. Fierro would succeed Thomas Daniels as the board’s public member and therefore its chairman.
Daniels earned $100,725 during the 2011-12 fiscal year but Fierro will make $77,810, according to the state transparency portal and a Chafee spokesman. Daniels was appointed by Governor Almond and his term expired in 2007, according to the secretary of state’s website.
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)
Treasurer Gina Raimondo has a message for members of Congress: don’t tax municipal bonds.
Raimondo and 41 of her fellow state treasurers sent a letter [pdf] last week to the top Republican and Democrat on the U.S. House Ways and Means Committee, emphasizing “the importance of maintaining the current tax exemption for municipal bond interest” as they consider plans to overhaul the U.S. tax code.
The letter was organized by the National Association of State Treasurers, which describes itself as “a bipartisan organization of state treasurers and other finance officials with similar duties.” The group said tax-free municipal bonds save states and municipalities an average of 25% to 30% on interest costs.
“The tax-exempt bond market has worked effectively for over a century,” Virginia State Treasurer Manju Ganeriwala, the association’s president, said in a statement. “Let’s not dismantle something that works.”
Raimondo, a Democrat, is considering a run for governor in 2014. Here’s her signature on the letter:
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.
By Tim White
EAST PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – Newly minted Congressman Joe Kennedy III is crediting the freshman class of the U.S. House with being more open to finding common ground in the hyper-partisan atmosphere of Washington, D.C., as he pushes for the South Coast Rail project and a $10.10 minimum wage.
By Ted Nesi
WASHINGTON, D.C. (WPRI) – Hours before Joe Kennedy III’s swearing-in last week, his brand-new congressional office looked like a college dorm room on freshman move-in day.
• Related: Joe Kennedy III met his wife in Warren’s Harvard Law class (Jan. 3)
WASHINGTON – Wayne Gretzky retired more than a decade ago, but he’s still inspiring congressional Democrats from Southern New England.
In separate interviews this week, Rhode Island U.S. Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse and newly elected Mass. Congressman Joe Kennedy III both cited the wisdom of the legendary Canadian hockey star as a model for how they’ll approach the 113th Congress.
“If you remember the great Wayne Gretzky,” Whitehouse told WPRI.com, “he used to say you become a great hockey player not when you go to where the puck is but when you go to where the puck is going to be. And I think there’s four issues where the puck is going to be where we really need to be working hard even if it’s not the so-called issue of the moment.”
Whitehouse’s four issues: climate change, the oceans, cybersecurity, and streamlining the way health care gets delivered.
The next morning, Kennedy had the same lesson on his mind.
“Wayne Gretzky was famous for saying he doesn’t go where the puck is, he goes to where the puck’s going to be,” he said, arguing that members of Congress need to think the same way.
Informed that Senator Whitehouse had used Gretzky’s famous aphorism less than 24 hours earlier, Kennedy said, “Did he really? You’re kidding me!” He laughed and added: “Maybe he and I can talk about that.”
By Ted Nesi
WASHINGTON, D.C. (WPRI) – With the Providence issued receding and his political future looking secure, Congressman David Cicilline and his aides are clearly excited to refocus on his work in Congress.
WASHINGTON – Harvard Law School Professor Elizabeth Warren’s class was an important one for future congressman Joe Kennedy III, and not just because he and his teacher would soon be serving together in Congress.
Kennedy, 32, met his wife, Lauren Birchfield, when they were both students in Warren’s class. “He sat in the front row, on my left, and Lauren was in the back row on my right,” Warren recalled Thursday in an interview with WPRI.com.
Kennedy and Birchfield married last month. “Joe tells me there are five couples from that class, and I take credit for all of them!” Warren said.
“She was and is an amazing professor,” Kennedy, who received his law degree in 2009, said in a separate interview. “There’s a reason she always wins the best-teacher award.”
He recalled: “I’d get lost in the intricacies of the bankruptcy code, and I’d go up to her office, and this was when she was the overseer of TARP – and she’d say, ‘Yes, senator, yes, senator, I need to go because I have a student here.’”
“He was a good student,” Warren said, laughing.
By Ted Nesi
WASHINGTON, D.C. (WPRI) – They didn’t love it, but in the end all four Democrats in Rhode Island’s congressional delegation stood by President Obama and voted for this week’s “fiscal cliff” compromise, once again standing with their party’s leadership during a major confrontation.
Rhode Island is going to need a pretty sizable reversal in its ongoing population decline if the state wants to avoid losing one of its two congressional seats following the next U.S. Census in 2020.
“For 80 years, tiny Rhode Island has stubbornly remained at two House seats and four electoral votes,” Politico’s Charlie Mahtesian wrote after new population estimates were released last week. “But it’s on a path to lose a seat and join the ranks of the states with a single at-large seat.”
Right now the states with one at-large U.S. House seat are South Dakota, North Dakota, Vermont, Alaska, Delaware, Wyoming and Montana.
Rhode Island has had at least two U.S. House seats since 1793, and from 1913 to 1933 the state briefly had three. Downsizing to an at-large seat starting in 2022 would shift the dynamic in Rhode Island’s congressional delegation, since all three members of Congress – the two U.S. senators and one House lawmaker – will represent the whole state. It could also make it even harder for Republicans to win federal office.
Sean Trende of RealClearPolitics ran the numbers under two scenarios and in both cases projected that Rhode Island wouldn’t even be a runner-up for an additional seat after 2020. Last year, Nate Silver calculated that Rhode Island had the second- and third-smallest House districts in the nation.
Another option: Rhode Island could push to expand the size of the U.S. House. More seats for everyone!
• Related: Start getting ready for a Cicilline vs. Langevin race (March 24, 2011)
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi has appointed Cicilline to the House Budget Committee for the new Congress that convenes in January, an assignment that will put the sophomore lawmaker at the center of some of the Beltway’s biggest battles, her office announced Thursday.
The two top lawmakers on the Budget Committee are both national figures: its Republican chairman is Wisconsin Congressman Paul Ryan, who was Mitt Romney’s running mate, and its Democratic ranking member is Maryland Congressman Chris Van Hollen, an influential member of the House Democratic caucus.
“The House Budget Committee is a less prestigious ‘B’ level committee in the House, but its profile has risen dramatically under the helm of Rep. Paul Ryan,” Beltway newspaper The Hill noted last week. Cicilline attacked Ryan and his eponymous budget frequently on the campaign trail this year.
Cicilline will also continue to serve on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, where he’ll be joined by Mass. Congressman-elect Joe Kennedy III. House committees are less intimate than Senate committees: the House Budget Committee has a whopping 38 members, 16 of them Democrats this session.
Cicilline will give up his post on the low-profile House Small Business Committee to join the budget panel. Pelosi did not announce any appointments to the prestigious Appropriations, Rules or Ways and Means committees on Thursday.
By Tim White
WASHINGTON, D.C. (WPRI) – Rhode Island’s congressional delegation is expressing support for President Barack Obama’s order assembling a task force charged with delivering gun safety recommendations by January.
Brendan Doherty wielded Alan Simpson and Erskine Bowles like a shield during his failed bid for Congress: the Republican highlighted his support for the ideas of the beloved-in-the-Beltway budget-cutters to signal he wouldn’t march in lockstep with the national GOP.
Doherty’s embrace of Simpson-Bowles reached its apex in mid-October when he traveled to New York to receive their blessing in the flesh. Doherty’s campaign trumpeted an endorsement, though in the end it was unclear that Simpson and Bowles had actually endorsed him.
Whatever the case, embracing Simpson-Bowles didn’t save Doherty from a 12-point loss – and apparently Bowles’ decision is now coming back to haunt him, too.
The former North Carolina U.S. senator was seen as a leading candidate to replace Timothy Geithner as treasury secretary for Obama’s second term, but Mother Jones’ David Korn reports Democrats haven’t forgotten that Bowles backed Cicilline’s opponent (sort of):
[Jacob] Lew, who as White House chief of staff has won much praise from colleagues, has another advantage over Bowles: better standing within his own party. … This past campaign, Bowles joined with former GOP Sen. Alan Simpson (who co-chaired their deficit reduction commission) to endorse two House Republican candidates over Democrats in tight races. … Both [New Hampshire's Charlie] Bass and Doherty lost, but congressional Democrats are not eager to forgive Bowles his apostasy. A Bowles nomination, a senior House Democratic staffer says, “would cause an uproar among congressional Democrats, and the White House is aware. He endorsed Republican candidates against some of our vulnerable people … [and this has caused] extremely bad feelings over here.”
(photo: Doherty for Congress)
By Ted Nesi and Tim White
PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – Incumbent Democrats U.S. Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse and Congressman Jim Langevin still hold sizable leads over their Republican challengers just a week before Election Day, according to an exclusive WPRI 12 poll released Tuesday night.
• Interactive: Check out the complete WPRI 12 poll results breakdown
Coming on Tuesday: Obama vs. Romney; Chafee for re-election; schools, business climate