Thursday, July 30, 2015

POSTED: Tuesday, July 28, 2015, 4:18 PM
A SEPTA Regional Rail train passes a sign marking the start during testing of the Positive Train Control system on May 20, 2015, at the Frazer Train Yard in Malvern. (Joseph Kaczmarek/For The Inquirer)

WASHINGTON – Funding for an upgraded rail safety system -- one that experts say could have prevented the Amtrak derailment in Philadelphia earlier this year -- has become a key point of contention as the Senate considers a vast transportation bill less than three months after the crash that killed eight and injured more than 200.

Republicans plan to add $199 million to the measure to help install the system, Positive Train Control, according to aides to Sen. John Thune (R., S.D.), the bill's sponsor. But Democratic aides say they were promised a $500 million addition, an amount Sen. Bob Casey (D., Pa.) has pressed for.

Democrats have also sharply questioned plans to delay a year-end deadline for all passenger and major freight lines to install the safety system, which can remotely stop or slow speeding trains.

POSTED: Wednesday, July 15, 2015, 6:00 PM
Sen. Bob Menendez leaves a meeting with Secretary of State John Kerry at Capitol Hill on April 14, 2015, in Washington. ( Mark Wilson / Getty Images )

WASHINGTON – Some of the most powerful political insiders on the right and left – including Republican kingmaker Sheldon Adelson and South Jersey Democratic potentate George Norcross -- helped Sen. Bob Menendez (D., N.J.) raise nearly $1.6 million for his legal defense fund in the last quarter.

The total, $1.557 million according to the senator’s aides, would be a decent total for a Senate candidate facing re-election. For Menendez, the money will help him pay for the costs of his defense against federal corruption charges. He has repeatedly said he followed the law and will be vindicated, but the defense is expensive. Menendez spent about $867,000 from April through June, mostly on lawyers.

He had $1.1 million left on hand as of June 30, a spokeswoman said.

POSTED: Wednesday, July 15, 2015, 11:21 AM
U.S. Sen. Pat Toomey (MATT ROURKE / Associated Press)

WASHINGTON – Sen. Pat Toomey (R., Pa.) raised $2.2 million for his re-election campaign from April through June, according to a summary shared by his campaign Monday.

The haul – similar to what he raised in the first three months of the year – is likely to give Toomey a commanding financial advantage about 16 months out from what figures to be a challenging Election Day, when he will try to win a second term on the same day Pennsylvania Democrats expect the presidential race to bring out a surge of their voters. Toomey has been named one of Democrats' top targets as they try to retake control of the Senate.

He had $8.3 million cash on hand as of June 30, after spending nearly $1.2 million in the second quarter of the year, including buying his first television ads.

POSTED: Tuesday, July 14, 2015, 2:48 PM
Rep. Mike Fitzpatrick (R., Bucks) said, “there is little reason to believe this deal will halt Iran’s nuclear program or that the Iranian regime is truly committed to joining the international community.”

WASHINGTON – President Obama’s nuclear deal with Iran met with hostility from most Philadelphia-area Republicans and wariness from Democrats, demonstrating the skepticism he faces as he tries to prevent Congress from overriding the pact.

Sen. Bob Menendez (D., N.J.), one of Congress’ leading sponsors of Iran sanctions and a close ally of Israel, said he was “concerned that the deal ultimately legitimizes Iran as a threshold-nuclear state.”

“I’m concerned the redlines we drew have turned into green-lights,” said Menendez, the former chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. “The bottom line is: The deal doesn’t end Iran’s nuclear program – it preserves it.”

POSTED: Thursday, July 9, 2015, 12:49 PM
U.S. Sen. Pat Toomey (MATT ROURKE / Associated Press)

WASHINGTON – Sen. Pat Toomey (R., Pa.) scored a partial victory Thursday as the Senate advanced a plan to help rein in child predators, a proposal that has featured prominently in his early campaigning for re-election.

The Senate voted 98-0 in favor of a Toomey amendment that would make it illegal for school districts to write letters of recommendation for employees who are known pedophiles or who face credible accusations of sexual misconduct. Toomey has warned that the practice is sometimes used by school districts that want to quietly move a suspected child molester to a new location.

“The sad truth is it has happened so frequently that it even has a name – it’s called ‘passing the trash,’” Toomey said on the Senate floor Thursday morning. He called his bill banning the practice “a huge victory for America’s children.”

POSTED: Thursday, July 9, 2015, 11:05 AM

WASHINGTON – Philadelphia Judge Luis Felipe Restrepo, whose nomination to a federal district court seat has become a flashpoint in a broader political battle over President Obama's judicial picks, cleared the Senate Judiciary Committee Thursday morning in a voice vote.

Restrepo, a judge in the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, will now await confirmation by the full Senate to fill an emergency vacancy on the Third Circuit Court of Appeals, which hears appeals of cases brought in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Delaware and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

After being nominated in November and endorsed by Pennsylvania’s bipartisan Senate delegation, Restrepo has waited nearly eight months for confirmation, adding another example to Democrats’ complaint that the GOP is slow-walking Obama nominees, hoping to stall as many as possible before the president leaves office. A president’s power to shape the judiciary can have a lasting impact on the nation’s laws.

POSTED: Wednesday, July 8, 2015, 4:44 PM
Katie McGinty (left) may is getting support from Bob Brady. (File photos)

WASHINGTON – If Katie McGinty runs for Senate, she has at least one big supporter locked down: Bob Brady, Philadelphia’s Democratic chairman, said he is “100 percent in her corner” and told her so Wednesday.

“I told her I would support her fully. Honorary campaign manager, anything she needed me to do,” Brady, a Democratic Congressman, said. “Whatever I could do, I would help her.”

In an interview, he emphatically backed McGinty, Gov. Wolf's chief of staff, as a superior candidate to Joe Sestak, a former Delaware County Congressman who is the only Democrat in the race but who has had a rocky relationship the party establishment. Brady said the vast majority of Pennsylvania Democrats in Congress would prefer McGinty over their former colleague.

POSTED: Monday, June 29, 2015, 10:21 PM
Cory Booker, then candidate for the US Senate from NJ, talks with the Inquirer's editorial board. (Ed Hille / Staff Photographer)

New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker endorsed Hillary Clinton for president Monday night, just hours before Gov. Christie, a longtime ally, was set to announce his own campaign.

“Hillary has fought for her entire career to expand opportunities for all Americans, and these last few months have been amazing to behold,” Booker, a national Democratic figure in his own right, wrote in an e-mail to his supporters. Citing some of the signature issues of his Senate career, Booker said Clintong has backed many of the same causes.

“We've seen Hillary exhibit outstanding leadership not only on apprenticeships and youth unemployment, but also criminal justice reform -- all issues you and I care deeply about,” Booker wrote.

About this blog

Jonathan Tamari is the Inquirer’s Washington correspondent. He writes about the lawmakers, politics and policy that affect Philadelphia, Pennsylvania and New Jersey.

Tamari previously covered the Philadelphia Eagles and the NFL. Before that he worked in Trenton, reporting on the characters and color of New Jersey state government. He lives in Washington.

Reach Jonathan at jtamari@phillynews.com.

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