The Hitchhiker’s Guide to Factoids about State of the Union

· There are 449 permanent seats on the floor of the House of Representatives, not nearly enough to seat all members from both bodies, the diplomatic corps, the cabinet, Joint Chiefs, the Supreme Court, et al. They had a sprinkling of those seats on the floor. Some lawmakers wind up standing toward the back. And not all lawmakers go or stay the entire time. We always see a few stragglers skipping out early through Statuary Hall.

·  Technically, lawmakers are not supposed to “save” seats along the aisle so they can greet the president and get to shake his hand on national television when enters the chamber. But a visit to the chamber a few moments ago reveals that several members have left bags, purses, hats and scarves on prized aisle seats to try to get a shot with Mr. Obama. Already lingering in the chamber are Reps. Steve Cohen (D-TN), Marcia Fudge (D-OH) and Sheila Jackson Lee (D-TX).

·  The House will again welcome the Dean of the Diplomatic Corps to the speech. That’s the longest-tenured diplomat in Washington. This is Roble Olhaye, who is the Ambassador to Washington fro Djibouti . Olhaye has served as Djibouti’s Ambassador to the US since 1988. He was away and missed last year’s State of the Union message.

·  Article II, Section 3 of the Constitution requires that the president brief Congress “from time to time” on the “state of the Union.” President George Washington did it in person for a while. Thomas Jefferson disbanded the practice, arguing it seemed too much like a “speech from the throne.” A written report served as the official briefing to Congress until President Woodrow Wilson delivered a formal address to Congress in 1913. President Jimmy Carter did not give a State of the Union speech to Congress in January, 1981 during his last days in office. But he did submit a written report. Carter is the last to do so.

And be sure to join me tonight at 11pmET for a Facebook Q&A following the State of the Union coverage on Fox!

 

Republicans clear first hurdle in stopping President Obama's executive move on immigration

Republicans cleared the first and easiest hurdle in stopping President Obama's executive move on immigration.
 
Lawmakers are heavily divided on whether or not President Obama should veto the bill if it reaches his desk, but everyone seems to think their opponent's position would jeopardize American safety.
 
This as brand new Fox polls show how voters see it all playing out.
Chief Congressional Correspondent Mike Emanuel with the story from Capitol Hill.

House R’s three-part plan to block Obama on executive orders and keep government open facing opposition

By Chad Pergram-Capitol Hill

The House Republican leadership is running into resistance from conservatives to its three-part plan to fund the government but also blast the Obama Administration for the immigration executive orders. Conservatives don’t like the new path, saying it doesn’t do enough to rebuke the president. It’s not known yet if the problems are deep enough to blow up the entire strategy. But here’s how it works:

Congress must approve a new spending bill by the end of the day on December 11th or the entire government shutters. Again. Many conservatives are hounding Republican leaders to use the spending package to harness money the Department of Homeland Security would use to carry out President Obama’s executive actions on immigration. Such a maneuver by the Republican-controlled House would die in the Democratic Senate. It would also face a likely veto threat by the president. So the GOP leadership is offering a bill written by Rep. Ted Yoho (R-FL) which would hamper the president from unilaterally exempting many illegal immigrants from deportation. Some may view that legislation as a fig leaf since Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) already said he had no intention to consider the measure if it got through the House. But the Republican braintrust believes the bill would placate conservatives by allowing them to vent their grievances over immigration on a piece of legislation other than the spending bill. The Yoho bill goes before the House Rules Committee at 3 pm et today and would prospectively be on the floor tomorrow.

Come next week, the House would tentatively vote on a measure to fund nearly the entire government through next fall, but only pay for the Department of Homeland Security through late winter. That would allow the new Republican majorities in both bodies of Congress to tackle immigration head-on next year. Plus, it avoids an immediate government shutdown fight before Republicans can even start next year with a clean slate.

Most Democrats abhorred the idea. Rep. Nita Lowey (D-NY), the top Democrat on the House Appropriations Committee, warned Republicans of deviating from a comprehensive spending bill which appropriators have toiled on for months.

“It is dangerous and irresponsible to engage in stunts and gimmicks affecting funding for the agencies under the Department of Homeland Security,” said Lowey. “This is no way to run a government. We should proceed with negotiations and develop a full omnibus.”

As much as Democrats don’t like the plan, it’s certainly not perfect for Republicans. Boehner conceded as much when asked about GOP efforts to counter the president yesterday.

Regardless, resistance is simmering in the Republican ranks. Since seizing the House majority in 2011, GOP leaders have had little margin for error when it comes to passing major pieces of legislation. They’ve had to turn to Democrats to lug significant pieces of legislation to passage. The most-notable case came this past February. The Republican leadership put a bill on the floor to suspend the debt ceiling. The measure passed, but with a scant 27 yeas from Republicans. 199 Democrats hauled the rest of the freight to passage, averting yet another debt limit crisis.

As it stands now, Republicans can only lose 18 of their own before having to turn to Democrats to keep the government open. Reid called the Republican effort to only fund DHS through March “a shame.” But the Nevada Democrat didn’t completely torch the House Republican maneuver. He hinted he might accept something less than a so-called “omnibus” bill which would fund all quarters of government through September 30, 2015.

“That would be a big accomplishment if we could get a bill over here that would fund all of the appropriations subcommittees except one,” said Reid.

But it could be a different tale for House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA). Pelosi has long-backed the “year-long” omnibus plan. And last week, perhaps anticipating the fix in which House GOPers might find themselves, Pelosi tipped her hand.

“We will not be enablers to a Republican shutdown, partial or otherwise,” said Pelosi, well-aware of previous scenarios where the GOP implored Democrats for assistance on the floor.

Republican sources indicated there may be some “softness” in GOP ranks for the trifecta plan. But GOP aides noted that over the past four years, the Republican Conference has traditionally lost 30-50 members on its side when it comes to voting on big legislative initiatives.

“This is just what we always go through,” lamented one senior aide familiar with previous vote-counting efforts.

The main goal for House Republicans is to extinguish all fires for this Congress and live to fight again – and actually do so with authority – next year. But Republicans may have to just fund all of government for a few weeks and again dive into another spending scuffle early next year.

This is a BIG test of the new GOP leadership team..and particularly the whipping skills of new House Majority Whip Steve Scalise (R-LA). The stakes are also high for Boehner. He could face an uprising from conservative members during the vote for Speaker next year if they don’t feel he has fought hard enough to counter the president. This is why the right-wing of the party is insisting on a limited funding plan for DHS for the time being.

It will be interesting if Boehner has to just cut his losses and pass a bill to keep the government open next week..with LOTS of help from Democrats. And that will ignite an internal firestorm in GOP ranks. 

Lawmakers push for package to renew tax breaks just through the end of the year

By Chad Pergram-Capitol Hill

Fox News is told a coaliation of lawmakers is trying to convince House leaders to vote later this week on a plan to re-up a number of tax breaks which lapsed and extend them. Remarkably, the renewal of the breaks would only run through the end of this year.

Republicans were floored last week when President Obama issued a veto threat on a $400 billion potential package which had been worked out between Democrats and Republicans on both sides of the Capitol.

We are being told by two sources that it's not a done deal that the House would move the plan, but supporters are trying to gin up interest in an effort to force a vote later this week and that the Rules Committee could meet to prep the plan for floor action as early as Tuesday

The original tax plan idea would have included breaks for major businesses, research and development and write-offs for capital, but the new idea to create a patch which would run only through the end of the year would be an effort to blunt disruption for the new tax season, simultaneously giving people the chance to make the claim for those breaks over the next few weeks.

Most major breaks expired at the end of last year and haven't been renewed.

President Obama threatened a veto last wek because he viewed the plan as favoring corporations. The president wanted extensions of the child tax creidt and earned-income tax credit (EITC) beyond the end of 2017.

Immigration Reform: Action by Years End

Special Report Guest: Karwan Zebari

Tonight on Special Report Bret Baier sits down with Karwan Zebari, the acting director of Congressional and Academic Affairs of the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG), to discuss the latest coming out of Iraq. 
 
Zebari is the highest KRG official in Washington, DC and supervises all relations between the KRG and U.S. Congress. Zebari also develops academic initiatives and programs with universities and academic institutions nationwide on matters related to Kurdistan. He can provide insight on the situation on the ground--
 
If you have a question for Karwan Zebari please tweet us @BretBaier or post via Facebook at facebook.com/bretbaiersr using #AskBret . Your question might just end up on our air! 

 

Lack of planning leads to another CDC hiccup

By: Bridget Creel, Special Report Summer Associate

Over the past ten years, four instances have occurred where the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have sent active bacteria samples to outside labs. An anthrax scare took place last month, marking the fifth mishap for the CDC. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) insisted on further investigation and recently exposed new details of the incident.

Backtracking to June 19, the CDC announced that scientists working at the lab in Atlanta had been unintentionally exposed to anthrax. The CDC quickly took action and provided antibiotics for those who were affected. Following the scare, there was no indication that any of the scientists were infected.

It is expected that in every instance, the CDC takes cautionary measures and assesses all risks before encountering dangerous bacteria. With that being said, how could a slip up like this happen for the fifth time?

On Friday, the CDC published a detailed report of the event, with everything from findings to action plans.

According to the CDC’s report, “The overriding factor contributing to this incident was the lack of an approved, written study plan reviewed by senior staff or scientific leadership to ensure that the research design was appropriate and met all laboratory safety requirements.”

Additional aspects that contributed to the occurrence included the use of unwarranted sterilization methods, no confirmation for inactive materials and insufficient knowledge of the procedures.

As officials further investigated the catastrophe, additional information was uncovered. A report by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) said that the CDC should have sterilized anthrax samples before the samples were sent to the other CDC labs. The report also found that there were several different factors that went against safety guidelines including use of expired disinfectants, use of defective security measures, lack of examination of exposed scientists and the transfer of the bacteria through Ziploc bags.

A House hearing was held today that discussed recent reports of the problems caused by the CDC. The hearing addressed issues such as ways to improve biosafety, the broader implications of the event and whether or not Congressional action should take place.

The CDC labs have been closed and will not reopen until safety guidelines are put in place, CDC Director Dr. Tom Frieden said. 

Immigrant Children: Where do we go from here?

The Obama Administration continues to deal with the influx of thousands of Central American children who have recently entered the U.S. illegally. 

Under political pressure from both sides of the aisle on their handling of the issue, Valerie Jarrett sent a letter last night to Texas Governor Rick Perry inviting him to a previously unannounced meeting with faith leaders on immigration while the President is in Dallas on Wednesday. Jarrett also said President Obama would welcome a meeting with Perry during his trip to Texas this week. 

In addition, the White House announced today that they are asking Congress for $3.7 billion in emergency supplemental aid to deal with border crisis.

Meanwhile, the administration has decided to house over 3,000 unaccompanied immigrant children at U.S. military bases, and the Pentagon is saying it is nearly maxed out.  On Monday, it agreed to house an additional 600 children at Joint-Base Lewis McChord.

Ventura Naval Station in California can hold 575 children and is currently caring for 450. Fort Sill Army Post in Oklahoma can hold as many as 1,200 children--and they have almost reached the limit.

Some members of Congress have be granted access to Lackland Air Force Base, which is also capable of housing up to 1,200 children. 

HHS is providing the children staying at the barracks with medical care and on-site supervision.  But, it's not a role the Pentagon wants to keep.  The DOD says it will cap the number of days it can hold the children at 120.

What do you think we should do with these immigrant children? Let us know here on the blog or via Twitter @bretbaier or Facebook.com/bretbaiersr and we will have more on this tonight with Shannon Bream and Ed Henry on Special Report.

 

President Obama Proposes $500 Million To Aid Syrian Rebels

The White House sent Congress a $500 million request Thursday for a Pentagon-run program that would significantly expand previous covert efforts to arm rebels fighting both the Sunni extremists and forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar Assad.

If approved by lawmakers, the program would in effect open a second front in the fight against militants spilling over Syria's border and threatening to overwhelm neighboring Iraq.

President Obama has long been reluctant to arm the Syrian opposition, in part because of concerns that weapons may fall into extremist hands. But administration officials say the U.S. has grown increasingly confident in recent months about its ability to distinguish the moderate rebels from the more extremist elements that include the al-Qaida-inspired Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, which has stormed into Iraq and captured much of the northern part of the country.

Jennifer Griffin has more tonight on Special Report

Former Senate Majority Leader Howard Baker Dies at 88

By Chad Pergram-Capitol Hill

Former Senate Majority Leader Howard Baker (R-TN) has died. He was 88 years old.

First elected to the Senate in 1966, Baker emerged as one of the most central figures in Republican Party politics after a remarkably fast rise.

By the end of his first term in the Senate, President Richard Nixon courted Baker for a seat on the Supreme Court. But when Baker took too long to decide whether he wanted it, Nixon offered the position to William Rehnquist instead. 

Rehnquist later became Chief Justice of the United States.

In 1973, Baker gained national prominence – and found himself working against his former ally – when he served as the vice chairman of the Senate Watergate Committee. During the panel’s proceedings, Baker famously asked: “What did the president know, and when did he know it?” 

Political insiders considered the Tennessee Republican to be a frontrunner to become President Gerald Ford’s running mate in 1976. But Ford ultimately offered the vice presidential candidacy to Sen. Bob Dole (R-KS) instead. The decision surprised many political observers.

A year later, Baker became the Senate Minority Leader. As the chief negotiator on behalf of the Senate Republicans, he played a key role in the passage of the Panama Canal Treaty, which gradually transferred control of the canal to Panama. 

After vice presidential speculation during the 1976 election, Baker ran in the 1980 Republican presidential primary. However, he ultimately dropped out due to poor performances in the early primary states. 

But with Ronald Reagan’s rise to the White House that year, Baker became the Senate Majority Leader after Republicans made historic gains in Congress, scoring control of the chamber in 1980.

Baker decided not to run for reelection in 1984 to return to practicing law in Tennessee. President Reagan awardedBaker  the Presidential Medal of Freedom to mark his 18 years of accomplishments in the Senate. The medal is the nation’s highest civilian honor,.

Three years later, Reagan tapped Baker to become his Chief of Staff in the waning time of his second term. Many viewed the move as an attempt to mend relations with the Senate, which returned to Democratic control in 1986.

In 2001, President George W. Bush appointed Baker as the U.S. Ambassador to Japan. After completing his term in 2005, Baker returned to Baker, Donelson, Bearman, Caldwell & Berkowitz, the law firm his grandfather founded.Baker served as senior counsel after formerly practicing there with his father early in his career. 

Baker also co-founded the Bipartisan Policy Center in 2007 with Dole and former Senate Majority Leaders Tom Daschle (D-SD) and George Mitchell (D-ME). 

Baker first entered politics in 1950 by managing his father’s successful campaign for the House of Representatives. Working on Capitol Hill also led him to his first wife, Joy Dirksen, who was the daughter of the legendary Senate Minority Leader Everett Dirksen (R-IL). 

After 42 years of marriage, Baker lost Joy Dirksen to cancer in 1993. Baker later remarried in 1996 to Sen. Nancy Kassebaum (R-KS). 

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