Stephanie Akin

Utah bill would give primary voters less say on who appears on special election ballots
Measure is latest development in yearslong struggle over party nomination process

Utah voters would have fewer opportunities to weigh in on candidates to fill certain congressional seats under legislation that quietly passed the state Legislature this week. 

The bill, which has yet to be signed by the governor and has so far received little attention from local media, would change the process by which candidates appear on primary ballots in special elections to replace House members who resign in the middle of their terms. For those elections, only candidates nominated by delegates from either party would be able to run. Candidates would not be able to make the ballot by petitioning voters. 

Dan Lipinski demurs on LGBTQ bill, Marie Newman pounces
Illinois congressman is only House Democrat not co-sponsoring Equality Act

When House Democrats introduced a signature measure this week that would extend civil rights protections for LGBTQ people, only one from their ranks was missing from the long list of co-sponsors — Illinois Rep. Daniel Lipinski. His likely primary challenger was watching. 

Marie Newman, who is exploring another progressive bid to unseat the eight-term lawmaker, drew attention to Lipinski’s apparent lack of support for the measure, dubbed HR 5, in a fundraising email Thursday. 

‘Zombie’ spending marches on as HR 1 faces Senate death, complaint says
Measure would address alleged misuse of campaign accounts after lawmakers leave office

As the Senate prepares to face off in the coming weeks over House Democrats’ sweeping political ethics overhaul bill, a provision aimed to curtail so-called “Zombie” campaign spending is getting renewed attention. 

That’s the use of campaign money to pay for personal expenses after a lawmaker has left office. And it’s the subject of two Federal Elections Commission complaints filed this week involving former Republican lawmakers, Florida’s Ander Crenshaw and Georgia’s John Linder

A group that wants to topple Mitch McConnell joins efforts to recruit Amy McGrath
Former Marine fighter pilot is seen as rising Democratic star despite unsuccessful 2018 House bid

An advocacy group devoted to toppling Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is joining Democrats’ efforts to recruit Amy McGrath to run for his Kentucky Senate seat. 

The left-leaning Ditch Mitch Fund said in a press release Tuesday that it had collected donations from 50 states and the District of Columbia in the 24 hours since The (Louisville) Courier-Journal first reported that the group had created a draftamy.com website to encourage McGrath to enter the race.  McGrath is a retired Marine fighter pilot who is seen as a rising star in the party in spite of her unsuccessful bid last cycle against Republican Rep. Andy Barr in Kentucky’s 6th District. 

Governors vs. senators: Hickenlooper, Inslee will test old theory
Democrats are desperate to beat Trump, but do previous measures of experience still matter?

With the entrance of John Hickenlooper and Jay Inslee into the crowded 2020 presidential contest,  Democrats are set to test once again the conventional wisdom that governors make better candidates than senators.

On the surface, it looks like the rules have changed with the odds stacked against the two. Hickenlooper, a former governor of Colorado, and Inslee, the current governor of Washington, are up against a wealth of hopefuls from the Senate, many with national profiles and a demonstrated ability to raise serious amounts of cash. The winner will have to face off against President Donald Trump, who defied political wisdom when he won in 2016 in spite of his inexperience and unconventional campaign.

Republicans, seeing opportunities in the suburbs, advance paid leave plans
Current GOP proposals on tap in Congress could be the first of many in 2020 cycle

Democrats have dominated discussions surrounding parental leave for decades. But Republicans are now poised to introduce a raft of new proposals in the coming weeks, reflecting the party’s effort to win back the suburban women it lost in the midterms.

Lawmakers working on new legislation include Sens. Mike Lee of Utah, Joni Ernst of Iowa, Bill Cassidy of Louisiana and Rep. Ann Wagner of Missouri, Roll Call has confirmed.

Carolyn Maloney pledged to wear a firefighters’ jacket until her 9/11 bill passes. Then she left it in her office
Congresswoman is seeking permanent compensation fund for 9/11 victims

On any other day, the royal blue blazer that Rep. Carolyn Maloney wore as she strode into the Capitol on Tuesday morning would have been an unremarkable choice.  

But this happened to be less than 24 hours after the New York Democrat stood in front of a microphone in a bulky, black fireman’s jacket and pledged that it would be her uniform until Congress passes a bill that would aid 9/11 responders. 

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s call for a ‘living wage’ starts in her office
New York Democrat will pay staffers no less than $52,000 a year

Claudia Pagon Marchena, like so many Hill staffers, moonlighted at a Washington, D.C., eatery to pay her rent until she took a job with Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. She celebrated her last day at her coffee shop job that same week.

That’s because Ocasio-Cortez, who has called on fellow lawmakers to pay their staffs a “living wage,” is making an example out of her own office. The New York Democrat has introduced an unusual policy that no one on her staff will make less than $52,000 a year — an almost unheard of amount for many of the 20-somethings whose long hours make House and Senate offices run.

‘You took off our Post-its?’ Capitol Hill officials tell Ocasio-Cortez to move her sticky notes
Capitol Hill officials complained they blocked a name plaque by the door, according to N.Y. Democrat’s office

The brightly colored sticky notes that for weeks have marked the entrance to Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’ Cannon Building office have been removed after Capitol Hill officials complained they blocked a name plaque by the door, according to the New York Democrat’s staff.

The move apparently came as a surprise to Ocasio-Cortez, who returned to her office as an aide was busily moving the notes to a wall inside. “You took off our Post-its?” she exclaimed.

House Democrats to consider publishing internal caucus rules ‘in short order’
Progressive groups have called out secrecy surrounding how Democrats govern themselves

House Democrats will consider making public their internal party rules after pressure from outside groups who say such a move would exemplify the party’s “commitment to open government.” 

“We believe in transparency and accountability,” Caucus Chairman Hakeem Jeffries wrote Thursday in a letter obtained by Roll Call, “and in that spirit, this issue will be presented to the Caucus for consideration in short order.” 

Elizabeth Warren planned fanfare, but instead she’s getting panned
Warren’s anticipated 2020 campaign rollout overshadowed by reports renewed criticism over Native American heritage claim

Elizabeth Warren planned to spend the week gearing up for a “big announcement,” in her home state of Massachusetts followed by a ceremonial tour of Iowa.

Instead, she has been overwhelmed yet again with criticism about her claims of Native American heritage. It is the latest in a series of unforced errors that have destabilized Warren, as she attempts to roll out one of the most highly anticipated presidential campaigns in a competitive Democratic field. 

No ‘material impact’ of foreign interference in 2018 elections, Trump administration finds
Report is second to probe foreign meddling in midterms

A Trump administration report found “no material impact of foreign interference,” in the 2018 elections, the Department of Justice announced Tuesday. 

The report, by Acting Attorney General Matthew G. Whitaker and Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen M. Nielsen, is classified. But a Department of Justice press release said it, “concluded there is no evidence to date that any identified activities of a foreign government or foreign agent had a material impact on the integrity or security of election infrastructure or political/campaign infrastructure used in the 2018 midterm elections for the United States Congress. ”

Democratic leaders called out for secrecy surrounding internal party rules
Progressive groups want Democrats to publish caucus rules on the internet

House Democratic leaders are under pressure to publish their internal party rules — a deceptively dry set of policies that can determine how power is distributed among members, how the party responds to scandal, and what issues the party will prioritize on the chamber floor. 

Those guidelines “have a significant impact on the legislative process,” according to 11 progressive and civil rights groups, who wrote a letter to party leaders Thursday asking for the rules to be published on the internet. The letter points out that House Republicans have published their caucus rules for “several” Congresses. It comes as Democratic leaders tout a sweeping overhaul bill, HR-1, that they say would set the stage for a new era of transparency in Congress. 

Long waits are over for some House staffers seeking day care spots
Expanded House day care opened in January with doubled capacity

House staffer Michelle Vanek wasn’t even pregnant yet when she signed up for employee day care. Four years later, she got the call: her 1- and 3-year-old children could enroll.

Another aide’s three years on the waiting list started shortly after her wedding and spanned the first 16 months of her daughter’s life. She got a spot last week. 

Anti-legalization group releases first pot lobby tracker
Political donations to federal candidates mark growth in industry, shift in focus from states

A group opposed to the legalization of marijuana on Tuesday unveiled a tool to track industry donations to federal candidates. 

Smart Approaches to Marijuana, or SAM, is the first major opposition group to attempt to quantify the industry’s federal-level lobbying efforts,a sign of the growing profile of the legalization movement.

Vote Mama helps moms with young children to run for office
New York’s Liuba Grechen Shirley launches PAC to support progressive candidates

Liuba Grechen Shirley attracted national attention when she persuaded federal election officials to allow her to use money she raised for her 2018 congressional campaign to pay for babysitting expenses.

She still lost her 2018 House campaign. So did the six other women with children under 2 who ran for Congress last year, she said, in spite of what has been universally recognized as a watershed moment for women in politics.

New members, meet the ‘slush fund’
Many Hill freshmen are already establishing leadership PACs despite association with abuse

The newest class of congressional lawmakers — some of whom campaigned against corruption and corporate influence in politics — is rapidly adopting a practice that critics say is among the swampier in Washington.

More than two dozen new members of the House and Senate — including prominent freshmen such as New York Democratic Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Utah Republican Sen. Mitt Romney — have established so-called leadership PACs, according to data compiled by government watchdog group Issue One. Leadership PACs are fundraising committees that allow lawmakers to raise money for their colleagues and candidates.

To Prevent Election Meddling, Invest in Black Voters, Groups Say
Russian disinformation campaign seized on long history of suppressing black votes

Political leaders seeking to prevent future meddling in American elections could take a lesson from the Russians: Invest in black voters.

That’s one takeaway from reports this week that Russian operatives disproportionately targeted African-Americans during the 2016 election, according to groups that seek to increase black participation and representation in American politics. 

Driverless Industry Surges Forward While Hill Hiccups on Regulation
Two years after Sen. Thune’s test drive, still no laws from Congress

Sen. John Thune was test-driving a car of the future when he ran into a very 20th-century problem: traffic.

In 2016, Washington’s local laws forced Thune’s autonomous-capable Chrysler sedan to motor into neighboring Virginia before it could show off the no-hands navigation. That’s where the South Dakota Republican got stuck in a tide of commuters.

Retiring Kansas Lawmaker Opens Lobbying Shop While Still in Office
Watchdogs say Lynn Jenkins’ new business flouts ethics laws

Retiring Kansas Rep. Lynn Jenkins launched a new lobbying firm in her home state weeks before she officially steps out of public office, according to a local media report published Friday.

Lawmakers are restricted from working as lobbyists until they have been out of office for a year. But the federal law that restricts their activities is porous, and former lawmakers routinely find ways to trade their influence before the prohibition expires.