Sheldon Whitehouse

Senators Ponder How to Break Criminal Justice Logjam
With Trump not on board with bipartisan bill, “we’re stuck,” Grassley says

Chairman Charles E. Grassley and the Senate Judiciary Committee will mark up a bipartisan criminal justice bill next week, but the White House supports only one piece of it. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Senate Judiciary Committee members grappled Thursday with the best strategy to overhaul the nation’s criminal justice system, since the leading bill has broad bipartisan support but the White House apparently backs only one part of it.

Chairman Charles E. Grassley of Iowa set a markup next week for a bill that represents a hard-negotiated compromise — first struck in 2015 — that backers say would pass the Senate with a bipartisan supermajority if brought to the floor. It is expected to easily advance from the committee and could be a signature legislative accomplishment for the Senate.

Holds on Energy and Environment Nominees Pile Up — Again
Procedural roadblocks reflect concerns about Trump administration policies

Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski says the process for environment-related nominees has become “a little more complicated this year.”

A series of energy- and environment-related nominees are stuck in limbo as procedural roadblocks, or “holds,” pile up over concerns by Republican and Democratic lawmakers about policy implementations by the Trump administration.

The holdups — five announced last week — have almost become a rite of passage for Trump nominees looking to take positions within the Energy Department, Interior Department and the EPA.

EPA Ends Media Research Deal With GOP-Tied Firm Amid Complaints
Whitehouse: ‘Powerful odor’ surrounds contract

Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., is raising questions about a media services company with ties to political action committee America Rising. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

A $120,000 no-bid contract the EPA awarded to a Republican-affiliated group to provide media monitoring services has been terminated after reports it was seeking emails of agency employees.

The group awarded the contract, Definers Public Affairs, has employees previously or currently affiliated with America Rising, a prominent political action committee that performs opposition research for Republican candidates.

Third Trump Judicial Pick Withdraws Nomination
Matthew Petersen could not answer basic questions about legal principles

Sen. John N. Kennedy, R-La., asked Matthew Petersen basic questions about litigation that Petersen could not answer. Petersen withdrew his nomination on Monday. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Matthew Petersen on Monday withdrew his nomination to be a judge on the federal district court in Washington, less than a week after a video of his confirmation hearing went viral because it showed him unable to answer Sen. John N. Kennedy’s questions on basic litigation principles.

Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I., mocked Petersen’s performance when he posted the video of the nominee stumbling over answers as a “MUST WATCH” in a tweet that concluded “he can’t answer a single one. Hoo-boy.”

A Huge Congressional Settlement Involving Sexual Harassment — And Hardly Anyone Knew
Lawmakers on Helsinki Commission blindsided by report of $220K payout

Florida Rep. Alcee L. Hastings has denied allegations of sexual misconduct that led to a $220,000 payment to a former congressional staffer. (Al Drago/CQ Roll Call file photo)

The $220,000 paid to former staffer Winsome Packer in 2014 is by far the largest known settlement involving Congress and accusations of sexual harassment in recent years.

But few, if any, of the lawmakers who served on the congressional commission where Packer worked seem to have been informed about it until the sum was reported by Roll Call on Friday.  

Trump Poised to Set Record for Appeals Court Judges
Three more nominees set to be confirmed this week

Appellate nominee Steve Grasz, who is set to be confirmed by the Senate this week, was , nominee to be U.S. circuit judge for the Eighth Circuit, testifies during a Senate Judiciary Committee nomination hearing in Dirksen Building on November 1, 2017. (Photo By Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

Senate Republicans are set to confirm three more of President Donald Trump’s appeals court picks this week, a push that will help set a record for the most such appointments in a president’s first year in office.

The Senate is expected to confirm Steve Grasz for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 8th Circuit, and James Ho and Don Willett for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit, over the objections of Democrats who question whether they can be unbiased.

Senators to Grill ABA on Rare Thumbs-Down for Grasz
Judiciary Committee members have questions about ”not qualified” rating

Steve Grasz, nominee for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 8th Circuit, testifies during a Senate Judiciary Committee confirmation hearing Wednesday. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

A controversial appeals court nominee from Nebraska, who received a rare unanimous “not qualified” rating from the American Bar Association, has revived concerns about whether the legal organization is biased. 

The organization has long conducted nonpartisan reviews of federal judicial nominees and rated them for the Senate Judiciary Committee. The vast majority of the time the group finds a nominee “qualified” or “well-qualified,” and has done so even with the numerous controversial judge picks President Donald Trump has made.

Word on the Hill: Happy Halloween
Send your photos to HOH

Rene T., who declined to provide his full last name, wears a “Bill on Capitol Hill” costume as he jumps in the air while a friend takes photos on the U.S. Senate steps on Halloween last year. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Celebrate Halloween bipawtisan style.

Sen. Thom Tillis, R-N.C., is hosting a Senate Halloween dog costume celebration, where dogs from various Senate offices will parade around in their hopefully politics-related outfits.

Word on the Hill: King of the Hill
Senate Democrats celebrating birthdays

Team photograph of The RBIs of Texas after winning the King of the Hill softball championship game. (Courtesy Bill Christian)

The Senate is the King of the Hill. Well, at least in staffer softball.

The annual King of the Hill softball championship game was Thursday and the RBIs of Texas, the Senate team, beat the Texas Republic, the House team, 16-12.