Congress

Cross your fingers.

Congress is trying to do something it was supposed to do back in 2007: agree on a rewrite of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. It's not controversial to say the law is in desperate need of an update.

Railroads warn they may have to shut down unless Congress extends an end-of-the-year deadline to install new safety equipment called Positive Train Control.

PTC is a complex system that monitors a train's location and speed, then automatically slows down or stops a locomotive if the engineer doesn't respond to a danger warning.

Thursday was one of the most important days of Hillary Clinton's political career. The Democratic presidential candidate faced grilling for more than eight hours over the 2012 terror attack on the diplomatic outpost in Benghazi, Libya, that claimed the lives of four Americans, including U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens.

The questions from the 12 House Select Committee members — seven Republicans and five Democrats — split mostly along partisan lines.

Updated 10:40 a.m. EST

Paul Ryan made it all but official Tuesday night.

He told his fellow Republicans he had returned from a 10-day recess visit home to Wisconsin with a new attitude toward being speaker of the House.

After weeks of being ostensibly uninterested and even hostile to the idea, Ryan had found a reason to seek the most powerful post in Congress and the second spot in the presidential succession (after vice president).

The House is back for its first business day after a 10-day break, and the first item of business is a big one: finding a leader.

Speaker John Boehner has said he is resigning at month's end. The Republican conference met to choose a successor, but Boehner ended the session when his No. 2, Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, withdrew as a candidate.

Ryan Caron King / WNPR

Getting around by car is the most common way people get to work and back in Connecticut -- and the state's infrastructure isn't set up as well as it could be to support the volume. For many drivers, that means a challenging commute every day.

Don't expect Congress to shell out any money when it comes to replacing aging voting equipment. That's what Christy McCormick, chairwoman of the U.S. Election Assistance Commission (EAC), says her agency is telling state and local election officials, even though a bipartisan presidential commission warned last year of an "impending crisis."

"We're telling them that, from what we understand, there won't be any more federal funding coming to help them," McCormick said in an interview with NPR.

Former House Speaker Dennis Hastert is expected to plead guilty later this month to charges that he agreed to pay $3.5 million to cover up allegations of misconduct and then lied about it to authorities, according to his lawyers.

Reporting from outside the federal courthouse in Chicago, NPR's Cheryl Corley tells our Newscast unit that the alleged wrongdoing "occurred decades ago when Hastert was a history teacher and a coach at Yorkville High School about 50 miles southwest of Chicago."

Cheryl reports that a plea agreement would allow Hastert to avoid a trial.

There was chaos on Capitol Hill on Thursday after front-runner Rep. Kevin McCarthy withdrew his name from the House speakership election. The closed-door House Republican meeting that was supposed to emerge with a speaker nominee spilled out into the hallway outside of the House Ways and Means Room in the Longworth Office Building. That's where reporters rushed lawmakers to find out exactly what had happened and where the conference might go from here.

Here's a peek into that hallway, in 60 seconds:

Treasury Secretary Jack Lew says there isn't much time. Congress and the White House face two big deadlines to fund the government. It will be an intricate maneuver to meet both deadlines even as congressional leadership changes. And in an interview with NPR, Lew described behind-the-scenes negotiations meant to avert a last-minute crisis.

"There are conversations going on at a staff level," Lew told NPR's Steve Inskeep, "and I think the key is for Democrats and Republicans [in Congress] to talk to each other."

Ray Hardman / WNPR

A day after a mass shooting in Oregon, Connecticut's two U.S. senators announced new legislation that would close a loophole in the Brady Handgun Violence Act.

Updated 8:30 p.m. ET

The bill to fund the government through Dec. 11 has been signed into law by President Obama. That beats the midnight deadline for keeping government agencies operating.

Earlier in the day, the Senate and the House passed the bill, which does not strip funding from Planned Parenthood.

Remember, some House Republicans had insisted on no payments to Planned Parenthood before they would vote to extend funding for the whole government.

NPR's Ailsa Chang reported on the bill's progress for our Newscast unit:

Regional Reaction To Boehner's Resignation

Sep 28, 2015

U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer of New York

“Speaker John Boehner is a decent, principled conservative man who tried to do the right thing under almost impossible circumstances. He will be missed by Republicans and Democrats alike. Let us hope the Republican majority, which Speaker Boehner played a large role in creating, learns the right lesson from his resignation: to work with Democrats in a constructive way, rather than let a handful of extreme right-wingers dictate his party’s policy.”

(This post was last updated at 1:31 p.m. ET.)

House Speaker John Boehner will give up his seat in Congress at the end of October.

Boehner became the 53rd speaker of the House in 2011. The Ohio Republican's tenure has been marked by fierce confrontations with Democrats and sometimes with his own party. One of those fights led to a 16-day partial government shutdown in 2013.

Amid renewed conflict with more conservative members of his party, Boehner is once again facing the prospect of a government shutdown.

Office of John Boehner

Politicians from across Connecticut have been listening to the message of Pope Francis this week and now they're reacting to a world leader whose message seeks to avoid the partisanship endemic to Washington, D.C. 

Pope Francis speaks his mind, and he did that again in his address to a joint meeting of Congress on Thursday morning. But, in the vein of the best Jesuit teachers, Francis praised America, its rich political history and its ideals before delicately delivering some things its political leaders might, well, want to consider working on.

There were political messages that challenged the orthodoxy of both American political parties, but, in this 51-minute address, there were a lot more points of emphasis Democrats are happy about — and that put some pressure on Republicans.

Pope Francis, in an address to a joint meeting of Congress, encouraged lawmakers to work together to solve the problems of ordinary Americans and to show compassion for people across the globe who are suffering from war and hunger.

When Pope Francis addressed Congress on Thursday, he faced a body that is more Christian than the U.S. public as a whole — and also more Catholic.

First the numbers: Whereas nearly a quarter of the U.S. population says they have no religious affiliation, it's less than 1 percent in Congress.

Congress is "disproportionately religiously affiliated," said Alan Cooperman, director of religion research at the Pew Research Center. "That is, the share of members of Congress who say they have a religion is considerably higher than the share of all American adults."

Connecticut Veterans Voice Support for Iran Deal

Sep 17, 2015
CPBN Media Lab

Connecticut resident and former Marine Gulaid Ismail served in Fallujah, Iraq in 2005 when he was 27 years old. Ismail enlisted after 9/11 and said he sees serving in the military as his patriotic duty.

"I didn’t want to just enjoy the liberties, and not say that I had a helping hand, you know, with regards to that," Ismail said. He supports the Iran Deal.

Army veteran Giselle Jacobs, also from Connecticut, agrees. She served in Germany in 1984 when she was 20 years old.

JD Lasica flickr.com/photos/jdlasica / Creative Commons

U.S. Senator Chris Murphy said that he, U.S. Senator Richard Blumenthal, and U.S. Representative Jim Himes met with General Electric Co. chief executive Jeff Immelt in an effort to keep the industrial giant from leaving Connecticut.

Dominic Chavez / World Bank

Senator Chris Murphy is joining Connecticut advocates to call for a big increase in the number of Syrian refugees resettled in the United States.

Chion Wolf / WNPR

Gary Franks was the first black Republican elected to the U.S. Congress in nearly 60 years when he took office in 1991. Since his political career ended in the late 1990s, he hasn’t been heard from in Connecticut.

Chion Wolf / WNPR

U.S. Senator Richard Blumenthal said the U.S. should take a greater role in the refugee crisis in Europe and the Middle East developing from the Syrian civil war and ISIS terrorism.

Senate Democrats banded together and blocked a resolution disapproving the landmark nuclear agreement between the U.S., Iran and five other nations on Thursday, and in doing so handed President Obama a major foreign policy victory.

The procedural vote fell two votes shy of the 60 needed to proceed. The significance of the vote is that the controversial accord, which lifts sanctions on Tehran in exchange for Iran curtailing its nuclear program, will be enacted without a major showdown between the White House and the Republican-controlled Congress.

Senate Democrats are on the verge of delivering a big win to President Obama on the nuclear agreement between the U.S., Iran and five other world powers.

With three more Democrats announcing Tuesday they were backing the accord, it gave supporters enough votes to prevent the passage of a disapproval resolution. Any such resolution would sink the White House-backed nuclear deal that lifts sanctions on Tehran in exchange for Iran curbing its nuclear program.

Ryan Caron King / WNPR

Sen. Richard Blumenthal announced on Tuesday that he will support the Iran nuclear plan. Speaking in Hartford, he said, "Rejecting this agreement is fraught with unacceptable risk."

Maryland Sen. Barbara Mikulski announced Wednesday that she will support the Iran nuclear agreement, giving the White House the final vote needed to protect the accord from a Republican-led effort to defeat the measure.

Chion Wolf / WNPR

U.S. Senator Chris Murphy is leaving for the Middle East to review operations against the Islamic State.

Construction to upgrade one of Connecticut’s most important freight rail lines can begin, after the state received an $8 million federal grant. The funding arrives as the issue of how we move goods around the state is coming front and center. 

Chion Wolf / WNPR

In the wake of the on-air shooting death earlier this week of Alison Parker and Adam Ward, two television journalists from WDBJ in Roanoke, Virginia, U.S. Senator Chris Murphy is calling on Congress to act “in any way, shape or form” to reduce gun violence in America. 

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