Robert Menendez

Trump appointees routinely bullied State Department staffers, IG reports
Numerous employees subjected to ‘disrespectful,’ ‘hostile’ and ‘inappropriate’ treatment

Two top officials at the State Department engaged in "generally unprofessional behavior" toward staffers, the inspector general's report found. (Mark Wilson/Getty Images file photo)

A long-awaited investigation by the State Department’s inspector general concluded in a report released Thursday that multiple career employees were subjected to “disrespectful,” “hostile” and “inappropriate” treatment at the hands of political appointees.

The review specifically focused on allegations of political retaliation against career employees at the Bureau of International Organization Affairs, which leads and coordinates U.S. policy toward the United Nations. For over a year, House and Senate Democrats have pushed for a thorough investigation into whistleblower complaints and news reports that political appointees were vetting career employees at the State Department and retaliating against those they deemed insufficiently loyal to President Donald Trump and his administration’s conservative agenda.

White House lifts pause on State, USAID spending
The move comes after a flurry of congressional criticism of OMB's funding freeze

The White House has agreed to release certain State Department and U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) funding after it had been temporarily frozen. (Scott J. Ferrell/CQ Roll Call file photo)

The White House has released certain funds appropriated for the State Department and U.S. Agency for International Development that over the weekend had been temporarily frozen, a senior administration official said Friday.

The action comes after the Office of Management and Budget told those two agencies to cease spending for a range of programs that still have unobligated fiscal 2018 and 2019 balances, and would otherwise expire if not spent by Sept. 30.

White House blocks foreign aid funds, demands accounting
Affected money could total $4 billion appropriated for public health, peacekeeping, development and diplomacy programs

The White House budget office has directed the U.S. Agency for International Development, led by Mark Green, above, to cease spending for a range of programs while the administration reviews how much money is left in the various accounts. (Riccardo Savi/Getty Images for Concordia Summit file photo)

For the second year in a row, the White House appears to be considering canceling billions of dollars in appropriated foreign aid funding at a time when Congress would be hard-pressed to block such a move.

Over the weekend, the Office of Management and Budget wrote to the State Department and U.S. Agency for International Development directing the foreign aid agency to cease spending for a range of programs that still have unobligated fiscal 2018 and 2019 balances and would otherwise expire if not spent by Sept. 30.

Senate Democrats push repeal of state and local tax rule
The $10,000 state tax deduction limit was a key feature of the 2017 tax code overhaul

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., answers questions following a vote on the budget agreement on Thursday, August 1, 2019. Senate Democrats will push to repeal a Treasury Department and IRS rule, which goes into effect Aug. 11. (Caroline Brehman/CQ Roll Call)

Senate Democrats will push to repeal a Treasury Department and IRS rule, which goes into effect Aug. 11, that they say would “block critical state workarounds” to the $10,000 limitation on state and local tax deductions.

The $10,000 deduction limit was a key feature of the 2017 tax code overhaul, and has been the subject of hearings in the House Ways and Means Committee where Democratic members are urging a repeal of that provision.

Senate confirms wealthy GOP donor, McConnell friend as UN ambassador
Kelly Knight Craft, current envoy to Canada, has come under harsh criticism from Democrats

Kelly Knight Craft was confirmed Thursday as U.S. ambassador to the United Nations. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

After seven months without a permanent U.S. representative to the United Nations and at a time of increasing turbulence in global affairs, the Senate on Thursday narrowly confirmed a new ambassador, a Republican Party fundraiser whose thin diplomatic résumé has come under harsh criticism from Democrats.

The confirmation vote, 56-34, of Kelly Knight Craft, who currently is U.S. ambassador to Canada, came hours after Senate Foreign Relations Democrats published a report that harshly criticized her suitability for the role. The report asserted she was “unknowledgeable” about basic U.S. foreign policy issues and likely to be “outmatched” by her U.N. counterparts from Russia and China. It also lambasted her long record of unexplained absences during her time as envoy in Ottawa.

Report: Former members used ‘zombie campaign’ funds in lobbying for foreign interests
Members turned lobbyists used dormant campaign funds to make donations to the legislators they lobbied on behalf of foreign clients

Then-Reps. Jeff Miller, R-Fla., left, and Michael Michaud, D-Maine, talk before a House Veterans Affairs Committee hearing in 2012. The men have pursued very different post-Washington careers: Miller now lobbies for Qatar. Michaud ran for town selectman in Maine last year. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Members of Congress who depart Capitol Hill for a lobbying job have a few advantages: deep knowledge of legislative inner workings, rapport with former colleagues and sometimes, according to a new report, a chest of leftover campaign money.

At least 17 former lawmakers lobbying for foreign governments or foreign political parties maintain dormant campaign accounts — so-called “zombie campaigns,” according to a report published Friday by the Campaign Legal Center. And about half of them have used funds from those campaigns to make donations to the same legislators they lobby on behalf of foreign clients. 

Risch drops Saudi measure; panel backs Menendez sanctions bill
Sends strong message of displeasure with the Saudi de facto ruler Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman

Senate Foreign Relations Chairman Jim Risch, R-Idaho, left, withdrew his own Saudi legislation after the committee voted to amend it by adding a sanctions bill from ranking member Robert Menendez, D-N.J., right. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

The Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Thursday advanced to the floor bipartisan legislation that would impose sanctions on Saudi Arabia for its human rights abuses, though the panel’s chairman said he would “absolutely not” recommend it be brought up for a vote.

Chairman Jim Risch withdrew his own Saudi legislation after the committee voted to amend it by adding ranking member Robert Menendez’s sanctions bill to it. In the end, only the Menendez bill was reported to the floor.

State Department aides won’t rule out existing authorizations allowing for attack on Iran
Officials would not commit on seeking congressional approval for military action, either

Senate Foreign Relations Chairman Sen. Jim Risch, R-Idaho, left, and ranking member Sen. Robert Menendez, D-N.J., look to reconcile differences over congressional authorization for the use of military force. (File photo by Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

Senior State Department officials wouldn’t commit to a Senate panel Wednesday that the Trump administration will seek congressional authorization for a potential military conflict with Iran, nor would they promise that existing military authorizations would not be reinterpreted to allow attacks on Iran.

Rather, the Trump administration officials said they would consult and inform lawmakers of any administration plans to carry out military strikes on Iran, including actions related to the defense of U.S. troops and partner forces.

Urgency of marijuana policy was on full display Tuesday
Senate Banking hearing and bills unveiled give an early look at key 2020 issue

Sen. Cory Gardner, R-Colo., left, and Sen. Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., testified before a Senate Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Committee hearing on marijuana and banking. (Caroline Brehman/CQ Roll Call)

“In short, the sky is not falling in Colorado.”

That is how Republican Sen. Cory Gardner summed up his testimony to the Senate Banking Committee on Tuesday morning, where he was advocating legislative action to give legal marijuana businesses access to banks and protection for banks from being viewed as money launderers under federal law for handling their money.

Defense conferees to decide fate of firearms export oversight
Decision nears on blocking the Trump administration from weakening regulations on the export of firearms

Rep. Norma Torres, D-Calif. added an amendment restricting the administration from moving forward with its plan to shift export control of firearm sales from the State Department to the Commerce Department (File photo by Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

Among the many thorny issues Senate and House negotiators have to hash out as they negotiate a final annual defense policy bill this summer is whether to block the Trump administration from weakening regulations around the export of firearms.

The House version of the fiscal 2020 defense authorization measure contains a provision that would restrict the administration from moving forward with its plan to shift export control of firearm sales from the State Department to the Commerce Department.