How Congressional Leaders Spent Their Summer Vacation

Cincinnati Reds infielder Pete Rose chases after ball as his cap comes off, 1976. (AP Photo)
National Journal
Michael Catalin
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Michael Catalin
Aug. 25, 2013, 8:30 a.m.

From polit­ic­al fun­draisers to speak­ing events on wo­men and the eco­nomy, dur­ing the re­cess con­gres­sion­al lead­ers have been cris­scross­ing the coun­try, rais­ing money, and in some cases dis­cuss­ing strategy with col­leagues for the com­ing fisc­al fights when law­makers re­turn next month.

Here’s a look at what top Re­pub­lic­ans and Demo­crats in both cham­bers have been up to since they left town earli­er this month.

Sen­ate Ma­jor­ity Lead­er Harry Re­id, D-Nev.

Not hav­ing to worry about reelec­tion this re­cess, Re­id head­lined a pair of en­vir­on­ment-fo­cused con­fer­ences this sum­mer, in­clud­ing one at Lake Tahoe along with former Vice Pres­id­ent Al Gore. He’s giv­en in­ter­views to Nevada-based news or­gan­iz­a­tions and grabbed head­lines around the coun­try for ex­press­ing his opin­ion on base­ball. The Base­ball Hall of Fame, Re­id said, should end a ban on dis­graced slug­ger and former Cin­cin­nati Reds man­ager Pete Rose and let him enter the hall. While tout­ing the be­ne­fits of a green eco­nomy, Re­id also at­ten­ded fun­draisers in Las Ve­gas, the Las Ve­gas Sun re­por­ted.

Sen­ate Minor­ity Lead­er Mitch Mc­Con­nell, R-Ky.

The Re­pub­lic­an lead­er faces threats from both ends of the polit­ic­al spec­trum and has been in Ken­tucky, at­tend­ing events and de­flect­ing his im­age as a Wash­ing­ton in­sider. His likely Demo­crat­ic chal­lenger in 2014, Al­is­on Lun­der­gan Grimes, is earn­ing pos­it­ive cov­er­age in the Ken­tucky press after a halt­ing start to her cam­paign, and tea-party chal­lenger Matt Bev­in has been slam­ming Mc­Con­nell for his luke­warm re­sponse to a con­ser­vat­ive ef­fort to make de­fund­ing Obama­care a con­di­tion of keep­ing the gov­ern­ment run­ning. Mc­Con­nell’s cam­paign hit a speed bump when a re­cord­ing sur­faced this sum­mer in which cam­paign man­ager Jesse Benton, whose Janu­ary con­ver­sa­tion had been secretly re­cor­ded, said he was “hold­ing my nose” while work­ing for Mc­Con­nell, ac­cord­ing to the Louis­ville Cour­i­er-Journ­al. But Mc­Con­nell seemed to take it in stride, pos­ing for a photo with Benton. In the pic­ture, Benton holds his nose and a smil­ing Mc­Con­nell, arm flung around Benton, is point­ing at the aide.

Sen­ate Ma­jor­ity Whip Dick Durbin, D-Ill.

The as­sist­ant ma­jor­ity lead­er riled con­ser­vat­ives this sum­mer with a series of let­ters con­cern­ing “stand your ground” laws. Durbin wrote or­gan­iz­a­tions ask­ing them to dis­close wheth­er they were mem­bers of the Amer­ic­an Le­gis­lat­ive Ex­change Coun­cil, a self-de­scribed think tank that helped au­thor such laws, and wheth­er those or­gan­iz­a­tions backed the laws. Con­ser­vat­ives com­plain that the let­ters amount to polit­ic­al in­tim­id­a­tion. The Chica­go Tribune sug­ges­ted Durbin was com­pil­ing an “en­emies list.” Durbin said the pa­per and his de­tract­ors were wrong and that he is con­cerned with a lack of trans­par­ency sur­round­ing the is­sue. He plans to hold a hear­ing on the laws in Septem­ber.

Sen­ate Minor­ity Whip John Cornyn, R-Texas

Run­ning for reelec­tion next year, Cornyn at­ten­ded meet­ings in “every area of Texas” and met with 260,000 res­id­ents, ac­cord­ing to the Dal­las Morn­ing News. Des­pite this and the fact that Texas is a re­li­ably Re­pub­lic­an strong­hold, Cornyn be­came a polit­ic­al tar­get briefly this sum­mer when he irked the con­ser­vat­ive group Freedom­Works. Cornyn de­clined an in­vit­a­tion to an event, and in his place, the group fea­tured a card­board cutout of the state’s seni­or sen­at­or, ac­cord­ing to re­ports. Cornyn has a con­ser­vat­ive vot­ing re­cord, but as Sen. Ted Cruz demon­strated when he beat es­tab­lish­ment in­cum­bent Lt. Gov. Dav­id Dewhurst in last cycle’s GOP primary, that’s not al­ways enough to fend off the party’s more con­ser­vat­ive wing.

House Speak­er John Boehner, R-Ohio

The 12-term con­gress­man waded in­to the in­tern­al GOP de­bate over wheth­er to use the threat of a pos­sible gov­ern­ment shut­down as a meth­od to re­peal Obama­care this month. Boehner re­minded Re­pub­lic­ans in a con­fer­ence call, Re­u­ters re­por­ted, of the poor out­come for the GOP after the shut­down in the ‘90s. Some law­makers, like Ok­lahoma’s Tom Cole, sided with Boehner, but oth­ers like Tim Huel­skamp of Kan­sas dis­agreed with the speak­er and poin­ted to a di­vide in the party, ac­cord­ing to Re­u­ters. Part of Boehner’s sum­mer agenda has been help­ing raise money for col­leagues. He at­ten­ded a fun­draiser for Rep. Mike Simpson, R-Idaho, who is the tar­get of a tur­bocharged primary chal­lenger, ac­cord­ing to The Ore­go­ni­an. Bry­an Smith has won the back­ing of the Club for Growth, an in­flu­en­tial con­ser­vat­ive group. But Au­gust has not been all strategy and fun­drais­ing for the speak­er. Earli­er this month, he played golf with Don­ald Trump and Ari Emanuel (broth­er of Rahm, the former White House chief of staff and cur­rent Chica­go may­or) in Bed­min­ster, N.J., ac­cord­ing to the Clev­e­land Plain Deal­er. “We had a good time,” Trump said, ac­cord­ing to the pa­per. “He played well, I played well, we all played well.”

House Minor­ity Lead­er Nancy Pelosi, D-Cal­if.

The Demo­crat­ic lead­er traveled to Mas­sachu­setts on Fri­day to at­tend an event on wo­men and eco­nom­ic is­sues with Rep. John Tier­ney, D-Mass. The East Coast swing was part of a Demo­crat­ic push to fo­cus on an agenda called “When Wo­men Suc­ceed, Amer­ica Suc­ceeds, The Bo­ston Globe re­por­ted. Pelosi at­ten­ded the event des­pite the pos­sib­il­ity that an eth­ics in­vest­ig­a­tion could be opened against Tier­ney. Pelosi at­ten­ded a sim­il­ar event, also fo­cused on wo­men, in Al­buquerque, N.M., with Rep. Michelle Lu­jan Grisham, D-N.M.

House Ma­jor­ity Lead­er Eric Can­tor, R-Va.

Can­tor, along with Rep. Paul Ry­an, R-Wis., spoke at an ex­clus­ive and private con­ser­vat­ive event hos­ted by the Koch broth­ers near Al­buquerque, N.M., ac­cord­ing to re­ports. Dis­cus­sion touched on Mc­Con­nell’s GOP primary, as well as that of Sen. Mike En­zi, R-Wyo., Politico re­por­ted. Can­tor, like Boehner, also shared his view on the com­ing de­bate over how to fund the gov­ern­ment. Can­tor sug­ges­ted that the gam­bit, backed in the Sen­ate by Mike Lee, R-Utah, Ted Cruz, R-Texas, and Marco Ru­bio, R-Fla, among oth­ers, would likely fail. “In or­der to avoid a gov­ern­ment shut­down, we need 60 votes in the Sen­ate and 218 votes in the House to pass a con­tinu­ing res­ol­u­tion,” he ex­plained. “To get 60 votes in the Sen­ate, you need at least 14 Demo­crats to join Re­pub­lic­ans and pass a CR that de­funds Obama­care. Right now, I am not aware of a single Demo­crat in the Sen­ate who would join us. If and when de­fund­ing has 60 votes in the Sen­ate, we will ab­so­lutely de­liv­er more than 218 votes in the House,” Can­tor said, ac­cord­ing to Na­tion­al Re­view. Can­tor also led a 28-mem­ber del­eg­a­tion to Is­rael earli­er this month, meet­ing with Is­raeli Pres­id­ent Shi­mon Peres.

Minor­ity Whip Steny Hoy­er, D-Md.

Hoy­er spoke Sat­urday at the rally pre­ced­ing the “Na­tion­al Ac­tion to Real­ize the Dream March” to com­mem­or­ate Mar­tin Luth­er King Jr.’s March on Wash­ing­ton. Hoy­er also led a group of 37 Demo­crat­ic law­makers to Is­rael and the West Bank, ac­cord­ing to the South­ern Mary­land News.

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