Monday, May 25, 2015

POSTED: Thursday, May 14, 2015, 7:18 PM
U.S. Sen. Pat Toomey. (Nabil K. Mark/Centre Daily Times/MCT)

WASHINGTON – Sen. Pat Toomey (R., Pa.) has given his approval to advance a Philadelphia judge's nomination to the third circuit U.S. court of appeals, clearing one potential obstacle for a nominee that critics argued was being stalled over politics.

Toomey has submitted his so-called “blue slip” to the Senate Judiciary Committee, giving his blessing to holding a hearing on the nomination Luis Felipe Restrepo, now a federal district court judge in the Eastern District of Pennsylvania. A spokeswoman for the senator confirmed the move.

By tradition, the committee will not hold a confirmation hearing until it receives blessings - in the form of the signed slips - from a nominee's home-state senators. Sen. Bob Casey (D., Pa.) turned in his in November, shortly after Restrepo was nominated to fill an emergency vacancy.

Jonathan Tamari @ 7:18 PM  Permalink | 0 comments
POSTED: Thursday, May 14, 2015, 1:25 PM
FILE - In this May 13, 2015 file photo, House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio speaks during a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington. Boehner said Thursday that this week's fatal Amtrak crash wasn't caused by a lack of federal funds and mocked a reporter for even asking about it. "Are you really going to ask such a stupid question?" he said at a news conference as a reporter started to ask about Democratic complaints that the government shortchanges the railroad. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh, File)

WASHINGTON – The long-running battle over Amtrak funding took on an acidic tone Thursday, sparked by the train derailment in Philadelphia.

Two Democratic senators blasted Republicans for proposing Amtrak budget cuts, saying more investment could have ensured that a critical electronic safety system was in place to prevent the crash.

“Again and again and again we see the consequences of a failure to invest,” said Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D., Conn.). “The approach to infrastructure in this country, all too commonly, has been patch and pray.”

Jonathan Tamari @ 1:25 PM  Permalink | 0 comments
POSTED: Wednesday, May 13, 2015, 9:38 PM
U.S. Rep. Bob Brady.

WASHINGTON – U.S. Rep. Bob Brady (D., Pa.) plans to call for an audit of rail lines to see which ones have put in place a federally mandated safety system, and which do not, he said Wednesday night.

Rail lines are supposed to have the system, Positive Train Control, in place by the end of this year, but only three out of 50 covered systems are close to complying, Brady said. The federal requirement was put in place in 2008.

“We gave them 7 years,” the Philadelphia Congressman said. “If that was done, this train accident would not have happened.”

Jonathan Tamari @ 9:38 PM  Permalink | 0 comments
POSTED: Wednesday, May 13, 2015, 2:00 PM
An aerial view of the Amtrak Train 188 derailment in Port Richmond on May 13, 2015. ( DAVID MAIALETTI / Staff Photographer )

WASHINGTON – Philadelphia Rep. Chaka Fattah (D., Pa.) proposed a $1.3 billion boost to Amtrak funding Wednesday, roughly 13 hours after the train derailment in his home city, but was blocked by Republicans who raised concerns about increased spending.

The debate in a House Appropriations Committee meeting came as Democrats – acknowledging they don’t know the cause of the incident Tuesday night – warned that a lack of investment in infrastructure prevents critical maintenance and could lead to more accidents. The committee was considering a GOP spending bill that would cut Amtrak funding by around $200 million.

“We should have some concern about the safety of our citizens, those who have elected us,” Fattah said in a morning hearing on a spending bill covering transportation, housing and other areas. While officials don’t know what caused the accident, “we do know if we don’t invest in the capital infrastructure of our country, there will be future accidents.”

Jonathan Tamari @ 2:00 PM  Permalink | 0 comments
POSTED: Tuesday, May 12, 2015, 12:16 PM

WASHINGTON – A new political group affiliated with Karl Rove’s American Crossroads super PAC has launched a $400,000 ad buy in Pennsylvania backing Sen. Pat Toomey (R., Pa.) as part of its national push to bolster targeted Republican senators.

The new organization, a 501(c)4 non-profit known as One Nation, plans to launch radio and digital ads Tuesday in Pennsylvania. The buy is part of a $2 million advertising effort nationwide backing five Republicans who Democrats have made top targets in next year’s elections.

One Nation, whose president, Steven Law, is also president of American Crossroads, says it is working to be “a catalyst” for “constructive solutions” to break political gridlock. Its Pennsylvania ads highlight Toomey’s recent vote to approve a long-sought change to Medicare payments. He was one of 92 senators who voted for the broadly popular bill.

Jonathan Tamari @ 12:16 PM  Permalink | 0 comments
POSTED: Monday, May 11, 2015, 7:54 PM
NJ Senator Robert Menendez. ( Elizabeth Robertson / Philadelphia Inquirer )

WASHINGTON – Sen. Bob Menendez (D., N.J.) filed Monday to move his corruption trial from New Jersey to Washington, D.C., his lawyer arguing that “almost all of the conduct at issue took place there and that “the vast majority of potential witnesses” live or work there.

The filing also says that holding the case in New Jersey could disrupt the functioning of the federal government, since at least three other Senators named in the indictment will all “likely be called as witnesses at trial” and that the charges also involve interactions with congressional aides, cabinet secretaries and other high-ranking officials. Moving the case to Washington would minimize disruptions and “ensure that any trial does not unnecessarily interfere” with the operation of the federal government, said a motion from lawyers for Menendez and fellow defendant Salomon Melgen, a South Florida eye doctor accused of bribing the senator.

It further argues that “prejudicial leaks” about the Menendez case may make it difficult to find an unbiased jury in New Jersey.

Jonathan Tamari @ 7:54 PM  Permalink | 0 comments
POSTED: Tuesday, May 5, 2015, 6:02 PM
U.S. Sen. Pat Toomey. (Nabil K. Mark/Centre Daily Times/MCT)

WASHINGTON – Sen. Pat Toomey (R., Pa.) waded into the roiling debate over law enforcement Tuesday, defending most officers as honorable and dedicated and worrying that mobs are clamoring to punish police whether or not they are found guilty of wrongdoing.

“My concern specifically is over the growing scapegoating of police officers in America today,” Toomey said in a 15-minute speech on the Senate floor.

He acknowledged that there are “real and horrible” cases of misconduct and that “unlawful” police activity “absolutely cannot be tolerated, not even one little bit.”

Jonathan Tamari @ 6:02 PM  Permalink | 0 comments
POSTED: Tuesday, May 5, 2015, 3:52 PM
State Sen. Jeff Van Drew

WASHINGTON – U.S. Rep. Frank LoBiondo (R., N.J.) could face his toughest challenge yet if national Democrats get their way.

The party’s national Congressional campaign arm is pushing state Sen. Jeff Van Drew (D., Cape May) to finally make his long-rumored run for Congress as they seek to oust LoBiondo, an 11-term incumbent, PolitickerNJ reported Tuesday.

Van Drew has a long history of winning state legislative races in the moderate district and has close ties to the powerful South Jersey political operation led by insurance broker George Norcross, III and Senate President Steve Sweeney (D., Gloucester). Unlike some national party picks, Van Drew would likely receive enthusiastic support from operatives experienced in local politics.

Jonathan Tamari @ 3:52 PM  Permalink | 0 comments
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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