Congress

Cohen named to House Ethics Committee

News release U.S. Rep. Steve Cohen

[WASHINGTON, D.C.] – Congressman Steve Cohen (TN-09) today was appointed by House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi and approved by the House Democratic Caucus to serve on the House Committee on Ethics. In 2008, then-Speaker of the House of Representatives Nancy Pelosi referred to Congressman Cohen as the “conscience of the freshman class.”

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Lamar Alexander: Peacemaker in fight over repealing Obamacare?

Under the headline “The stealth Republican force behind Obamacare repeal,” Politico reviews Tennessee Sen. Lamar Alexander’s “deliberate, bipartisan approach’ to health care legislation, “preaching patience as much of the GOP demands quick action.”

An excerpt:

The folksy Tennessee senator is quietly prevailing upon Republican lawmakers to take a deep breath when it comes to rewriting the health care law that controls a sixth of the American economy. His goal, in a nutshell: to reassure millions of Americans that Republicans aren’t trying to snatch away their health insurance.

His message: As long as we’re smart and deliberate, it will all be fine. It might take awhile, but we got this.

“There are a lot of generals in this administration … they’re taught in the war college to think it all the way through,” Alexander says. “We ought to do that as we try to repair the damage caused by Obamacare. We need to think all the way through to the end.”

Tamping down expectations about a quick fix — let alone delivering a solution — is a monumental task, of course. It’s one Alexander is most comfortable leading in private. If there’s a softer side to Republicans’ plans to gut the law, it’s best represented by Alexander, a lawmaker who so loves cutting a deal that he voluntarily left the top ranks of Republican leadership to better work with Democrats.

A former governor and two-time presidential candidate, Alexander stalks the halls of the Capitol with a small card filled with bullet points about the health care law, pressing it into the hands of Republicans to alert them to the scope of the problems with the nation’s insurance coverage. Just as he ran for governor by walking across the state in his trademark black-and-red checked flannel shirt, Alexander’s goal is to buttonhole enough GOP lawmakers until the whole party is on the same page.

It hasn’t been easy. Daily Senate Republican lunches regularly erupt in disagreement over strategy; it’s now mid-February without a clear path forward, after years of Republican show votes to repeal the law.

Which is fine by Alexander.

Puzder’s nomination as labor secretary comes under attack; Alexander defends him

Senate Democrats and labor advocates demanded Thursday that Franklin, Tenn., resident Andrew Puzder withdraw his nomination as labor secretary because the fast-food executive’s record shows he would not be an advocate for workers’ rights, reports Michael Collins. A Puzder spokesman called the criticism “fake news.”

“Andrew Puzder has proven himself to be an enemy – not a champion– of workers’ rights,” said Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer of New York. “Nominating Puzder to oversee the labor department is clearly having the fox guard the hen house – and a pretty sharp-toothed fox at that.”

Puzder’s critics said labor practices at his restaurants and his opposition to raising the minimum wage and expanding overtime eligibility should disqualify him from leading the Department of Labor.

…The calls for Puzder to withdraw his nomination come on the heels of his admission Monday night that he and his wife employed an undocumented housekeeper for years. Puzder said in a statement that, once he learned of the woman’s status, he ended her employment and paid back taxes to the IRS and California.

…Puzder can expect Democrats and workers’ advocates to thoroughly scrutinize his record, said Sen. Patty Murray of Washington, the top Democrat on the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, which will conduct his hearing.

Workers at his restaurants have complained of lost wages, overtime violations and harassment – the kind of issues Puzder would be called on to investigate as labor secretary, Murray said.

“All of this adds up to a nominee for secretary of labor who is uniquely unqualified,” she said.

Sen. Lamar Alexander, the Tennessee Republican who chairs the committee, has defended Puzder as a respected business leader “who understands how excessive regulation can destroy jobs and make it harder for family incomes to rise.”

Puzder, who lives in Franklin, Tenn., is chief executive officer of CKE Restaurants, the parent company of the Hardee’s and Carl’s Jr. fast-food chains.

Black visists Harwell, says new congressional committee chair ‘does’t preclude’ 2018 run for governor

U.S. Rep. Diane Black visited the Legislative Plaza Thursday and had some encounters with reporters curious about reports she may run for governor.

From The Tennessean:

Black, recently named chairman of the powerful U.S. House Budget Committee, said she was in Nashville to meet with House Speaker Beth Harwell and Lt. Gov. Randy McNally to discuss “what’s going on up in D.C., and what we’re maybe doing with some block grants, and just get some opinions from them.”

… Black was escorted around Legislative Plaza by Republican campaign operative Ward Baker, who served as executive director of the National Republican Senatorial Committee during the November election cycle. A Black loyalist, Baker is credited with helping the GOP maintain control of the U.S. Senate and will likely be in high demand for campaigns in the 2018 election cycle.

She was asked where the new committee chair position would deter her from running for the 2018 Republican gubernatorial nomination, reports the Times-Free Press.

Black described the committee chairmanship as “an opportunity for me to be able to do what I went up there to do – and that is to make sure we get the budget in order and work on plans to move this country forward.

“So,” Black added, “it’s an opportunity but that doesn’t preclude me from doing things later down the road.”

As for her thoughts about seeking the governorship, Black said, “Right now I’m working what I need to do with [block] grants and making sure I’m doing the right thing for the state of Tennessee. That is my focus right now.”

Asked about congressional Democrats’ complaints that Republicans have no real plan to replace the Affordable Care Act, Black said “we’re working on that. You’ll be getting some good information in a couple of weeks.”

Other Republicans who’ve expressed interest in succeeding the term-limited Republican Gov. Bill Haslam  include state Sen. Mike Green of Clarksville; House Speaker Beth Harwell of Nashville; state Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris of Collierville; former state Economic and Community Development Commissioner Randy Boyd of Knoxville and Bill Lee, chairman of Franklin, Tenn.-based Lee Company.

Alexander, Corker vote for DeVos confirmation

Tennessee’s Republican U.S. senators, Lamar Alexander and Bob Corker, voted to confirm the nomination of Betsy DeVos as secretary of education Tuesday, helping create a 50-50 tie on the Senate floor that was broken with Vice President Mike Pence’s vote in favor of approval.

Chalkbeat has a Tennessee-oriented report on the proceedings. An excerpt:

The vote came after Alexander urged his colleagues to support DeVos following a Democrat-led vigil that attempted to derail her nomination.

“I’m voting for Betsy DeVos because she will implement our law fixing No Child Left Behind the way we wrote it: to reverse the trend to a national school board and restore control to classroom teachers, to local school boards, to governors and legislators,” said Alexander, himself a former U.S. education secretary under President George H.W. Bush.

Alexander also cited DeVos’s work at “the forefront of one of the most important public school reforms in the last 30 years — public charter schools; and because she has worked tirelessly to give low-income children more the same kind of choices that wealthy families have.”

As chairman of the Senate panel that advanced her nomination, the Tennessee Republican has been in the national spotlight in the debate.

Only minutes before he spoke, Sen. Patty Murray, a Democrat with whom Alexander co-authored the new federal education law known as the Every Student Succeeds Act, criticized Senate leaders for “cutting corners and rushing” to a hearing and a vote. She also questioned DeVos’s financial alliances and cited potential conflicts of interest.

Alexander responded that DeVos had testified before Congress longer and answered significantly more questions than either of President Obama’s two education chiefs. He noted that DeVos has worked with the Office of Government Ethics to comply with laws and regulations governing potential conflicts of interest.

“So, plenty of time for questions. No conflict of interests. What’s the problem?” Alexander asked the Senate.

Tennesseans have flooded both senators’ offices with phone calls and emails voicing their opinions about the embattled DeVos.

…Spokeswomen for both senators sidestepped the question when asked Tuesday about the breakdown of calls over DeVos.

TN insurance commissioner asks senators for more flexibility

Tennessee Insurance Commissioner Julie Mix McPeak urged Congress on Wednesday to give states more power to regulate their insurance markets, reports Michael Collins.

Testifying at a Senate hearing, McPeak stressed that congressional Republicans should return as much flexibility to the states as possible as they move forward with plans to repeal the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare.

Additional flexibility would help states tailor insurance regulations to their own unique markets and could help provide stability in states like Tennessee, where the individual market is struggling, McPeak said.

“Tennessee’s experience, which is likely not unique, suggests a need for policy changes,” McPeak said.

McPeak was one of four witnesses who testified before the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee about how to stabilize the individual health-insurance market as Congress plows ahead with plans to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act.

Note: Text of the commissioner’s remarks is HERE. Sen. Lamar Alexander’s press release (he chairs the committee) is HERE.

Alexander-chaired committee approves DeVos as education secretary

With Sen. Lamar Alexander at the chair, the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions approved Betsy DeVos’ nomination as U.S. secretary of education Tuesday. All 12 Republicans on the panel voted for it; all 11 Democrats voted no.

From the New York Times report:

Ms. DeVos’s ultimate confirmation, while likely, is still not definite. Senator Lamar Alexander of Tennessee, chairman of the committee, was visibly frustrated — by Democratic delaying tactics and arguments — as he defended Ms. DeVos and said she would be devoted not only to giving parents a choice about school options but also to protecting public schools.

“She wants to reverse the trend of a national school board and stop telling teachers and school boards how to run their schools,” Mr. Alexander said. “One would think the committee would be delighted with that. I respect my colleagues. I don’t question their motives. I don’t question their votes. But I believe their concerns are misplaced.”

But Senator Lisa Murkowski, Republican of Alaska, expressed reservations about Ms. DeVos that sounded similar to those of Ms. DeVos’s opponents. The senator said that while she would vote to advance Ms. DeVos out of committee, she would not commit to voting for her on the Senate floor.

“She has not yet earned my full support,” said Ms. Murkowski, who referred to conversations with Alaska teachers. “Betsy DeVos must show all of us that she truly understands children of all America, of rural, of urban, who are not able to access an alternative choice in education.”

Democrats, teachers’ unions and liberal protesters have been flooding senators with calls and emails protesting her nomination for myriad reasons. They have expressed concern about her family’s contributions to groups that support so-called conversion therapy for gay people; her donations to Republicans and their causes, which she agreed have totaled about $200 million over the years; and her past statements that government “sucks” and that public schools are a “dead end.” (Note: See previous post HERE on a TN protest.)

 

Alexander’s press release is HERE.

Corker hails committee approval of Tillerson

News release from Sen. Bob Corker’s office

WASHINGTON – U.S. Senator Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, today joined a majority of committee members in voting to favorably report the nomination of Rex Tillerson to be Secretary of State to the full Senate for consideration.

“I personally have no doubt that Rex Tillerson is well-qualified,” said Corker. “He’s managed the world’s eighth largest company by revenue with over 75,000 employees. Diplomacy has been a critical component of his positions in the past, and he has shown himself to be an exceptionally able and successful negotiator who has maintained deep relationships around the world.”

Complete text of Corker’s opening statement at the business meeting is below.

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TN inaugural ball draws 300 to Washington wax museum

Over the weekend, there was a Tennessee inaugural ball  at a Washington wax museum where images of Donald Trump – as well as Andrew Jackson – were quite popular, reports Michael Collins.

The long line of evening-gown, tuxedo-clad Tennesseans at the “VolunCheers” inaugural ball Saturday night snaked through Madame Tussauds wax museum, just a few blocks from the White House.

There to receive the 300 guests was the museum’s newest addition: A life-size wax figure of the newly inaugurated 45th president, all decked out in patriotic red, white and blue (navy suit, white shirt, bright red tie). On his lapel: A “Made in America” flag lapel pin.

… The black-tie ball was the brainchild of the Tennessee State Society, a nonprofit, Washington-based organization whose 375 members include congressional staffers, lobbyists, public relations executives and other displaced Tennesseans who happen to live or work in the nation’s capital.

The group is nonpartisan, so every four years, it hosts an inaugural event, regardless of the new president’s party affiliation. Tickets for this year’s gala cost up to $310 — early birds got a discounted price of $110 — but the event sold out even though it was held the day after Trump’s swearing in.

“We thought a fun-spirited ball on Saturday night would be the perfect end to a weekend of celebrations for Tennesseans working or visiting D.C. for the inauguration festivities,” said Greg Dowell, who works as a scheduler for Rep. Diane Black, R-Gallatin, and serves as the Tennessee society’s president.

A wax museum may seem like an odd place for an inaugural event, but with its collection of presidential figures, Madame Tussauds turned out to be an appropriate setting.

“This is quite a place,” said Rep. Chuck Fleischmann, R-Ooltewah, glancing around the room as the wax Reagans — Ronald and Nancy — stood guard in a corner.

Alexander defends DeVos, criticizes Democrats

Democrats sharply criticized Betsy DeVos at a Senate hearing on her nomination as U.S. Secretary of Education, Tennessee Sen. Lamar Alexander, himself a former education secretary, is firing back, reports The Tennessean.

Alexander, the chair of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, led the confirmation hearing on Tuesday, during which DeVos deflected or did not answer questions from Democrats about college financial aid and guns in schools.

Alexander said the criticism is petty and the opposition to DeVos’s nomination is only “because they don’t agree with her.” He said she held her composure well and “didn’t make any mistakes.”

“(The Democrats) are making things up to discredit her,” he said.

Alexander himself faced criticism from fellow senators for rules he implemented before the hearing, to which he said that DeVos spent 90 minutes longer in front of the committee than any of President Barack Obama’s nominees.

DeVos, 59, is a billionaire from Michigan and a champion of charter schools and school vouchers, which use public dollars to pay for private school tuition. Democratic senators grilled her over that support, in addition to her financial interests in foundations that have supported conversion therapy for LGBT individuals.

“They just don’t like the fact she spent her life trying help low-income children try and get an option to a better school,” Alexander said.

She has also faced opposition for some $200 million in contributions to Republican candidates.

ABOUT THIS BLOG

Former Knoxville News Sentinel capitol bureau chief Tom Humphrey writes about Tennessee politics, government, and legislative news.

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