Former Rep. Ralph Regula, a moderate Republican from Ohio known for his deal-cutting acumen, avuncular manner and skills as an appropriator, died July 19. He was 92.
Born in Beach City, Ohio on Dec. 3, 1924, Regula was first elected to Congress in 1972 after stints in the Ohio state House and Senate. Between then and his retirement after the 2008 elections, he embodied a middle-of-the-road Midwestern approach to politics that valued working across the aisle and taking care of the folks back home.
He secured a particularly good position to do so in 1975, when he snagged a seat on the Appropriations Committee. Regula was like many Republicans of his generation, utterly unfamiliar with anything but minority status until 1994’s election secured a GOP majority in the House and Senate.
The intervening years in the wilderness taught him the value of getting along with his Democratic colleagues. And the availability of earmarks to members of Congress, especially skilled appropriators, kept the funds flowing back to his home state.
The Canton-area congressman “channeled reams of federal money to Northeast Ohio during a 36-year congressional career,” and that “as obstruction and theatrics took over Congress, Regula maintained a low-key style and distaste for political gamesmanship,” The Cleveland Plain Dealer said.
Regula’s bipartisan outreach was at times tested when he became a cardinal, or subcommittee chairman, of the Labor-HHS Appropriations Subcommittee. That panel finds itself in the middle of many contentious spending debates over topics such as abortion and education. But he never suffered from a lack of respect among colleagues.
When Regula announced his retirement during the 2008 election cycle, CQ said his absence, and that of other retiring moderates, did not augur well for an institution starting to show an increasing amount of partisan strain.
“The retirement of several Republicans known for bipartisan cooperation on spending bills will likely make the House Appropriations Committee even more of a battleground next year,” CQ wrote in January of 2008, noting the retirements that year of Regula, fellow Ohioan David L. Hobson, Ray LaHood of Illinois, and James T. Walsh of New York threatened the committee’s reputation for comity.
Since then, the battles over appropriations and the debates over spending priorities in Congress have only intensified.
In a 2010 op-ed piece for the Plain Dealer, Regula was unapologetic in his approach to governing, writing: “I have seen passions run high; I’ve heard differences of opinions, regional and political; I’ve heard the heat of debate — but in the end, I’ve heard compromise. Respect for the opinions of others — not simply an appeal to one’s rights — brings about compromise. Listening to the points of view of others, finding common ground to cooperate and making friends on the ‘other side of the aisle’ helps to achieve ultimate success.”
Much of the congressional focus lately has been on Senate Republicans’ intraparty divisions on health care, but House Republicans are having struggles of their own on other issues. And the frustration is mounting.
The House GOP Conference faced its latest setback Wednesday after their leadership announced the previous evening that they would move a four-bill, security-related appropriations package on the floor next week instead of a measure combining all 12 appropriations bills.
This will be the first fiscal 2018 appropriations floor vote in the House.
The current fiscal year ends September 30.
The appropriations process scale-back comes on the heels of more than a month of intraparty fighting about the budget and the reconciliation process for rewriting the tax code and overhauling mandatory spending programs.
House Republicans also spent more than three months working through their differences on health care before finally passing a measure to partially repeal and replace the 2010 law with a single vote to spare.
On Wednesday, the Budget Committee marked up the fiscal 2018 budget resolution and the Appropriations Committee marked up its final two bills.
None of those measures may ever see floor action because House Republicans can’t get on the same page.
Several rank-and-file members were disappointed with leadership’s decision to move forward with a national security minibus rather than a GOP omnibus.
“There is an overwhelming frustration that this looks like this is the same pattern — that we are [on] the same spinning hamster wheel that we’ve been on for the last few years,” Republican Study Committee Chairman Mark Walker said. “The opinions were very strong and very heavy in our RSC forum today.”
Asked what Republicans could do to get themselves off the hamster wheel, the North Carolina Republican said, “You just have to have enough people who say, ‘Listen, I’m not going to support the way this process is rolling out.’ That’s the only leverage you do have.”
However, Walker said he is not saying he would vote against the national security minibus.
The measure is expected to pass, but members still said they would have preferred having all of the bills packaged together to improve the House’s negotiating position in eventual talks with the Senate.
“I think if we don’t pass all 12 bills — and apparently we’re not going to pass all 12 before August recess — I believe we go in as a weaker negotiator into the Senate,” said Georgia Rep. Tom Graves, an appropriator who led the push for the House to take up a GOP priority omnibus. “And ultimately this leads to a [continuing resolution]. That’s not where I want to be.”
Graves and Walker both said they feel leadership could have done more to get the conference on board with the 12-bill strategy.
The whip count on the idea showed few members were opposed but many needed more information about what was in the bills, some of which are just being reported out of committee this week, and how the amendment process would work, Graves said.
“What I sensed today and even last night was a bit of frustration, some disappointment that we didn’t see the horsepower put behind this that we’ve seen behind other priorities of the House,” he said. “The eject button was pushed pretty quick.”
Since the Appropriations Committee is just finishing markups of the 12 bills this week, they didn’t have a chance to present their case to the full GOP conference for moving all of the bills together on the floor, Oklahoma Republican Tom Cole said.
“I actually think we pulled back prematurely from the omnibus strategy,” he said, but noted to move ahead on that the House likely would have needed to stay in early August.
The security minibus only includes the Defense, Military Construction-Veterans Affairs, Energy and Water and Legislative Branch spending bills. Cole said he doesn’t know what leadership will do with other eight appropriations measures.
“We were told they [would] quote-unquote try to pass them in September,” he said. “I hope that’s true, but I think that’s hard to do. The real engines here are Defense and MilCon-VA. So you take the engines off the train, expect the cars to move on their own, maybe it can happen but it’s not as likely as I would hope.”
The prevailing sense is that most, if not all, of the eight remaining GOP appropriations bills will not see floor action.
When Roll Call asked former Appropriations Chairman Harold Rogers what he expected to happen with those eight bills, the Kentucky Republican said ominously, “Next question.”
Cole and Pennsylvania Rep. Charlie Dent, another appropriator, said they expect the appropriations process will result in a continuing resolution through at least December to buy more time for negotiations.
“It’s not so much disappointing as it was predictable,” Dent said. “I always questioned this strategy of running an omnibus out of the House without an agreed-to topline spending level with the Senate.”
The inability of Senate Republicans to agree on a measure to repeal and replace Barack Obama’s 2010 health care law is another blow to Donald Trump’s still-young but embattled presidency.
The president took to Twitter shortly after Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., pulled the measure after the third and fourth GOP senators announced their opposition — two more than he could spare. Trump’s message in a late-night tweet and then one on Tuesday morning was forward-looking.
The House appeared prepared to quickly take up the Senate leadership bill for a vote that likely would have propelled it to Trump’s desk. But Trump’s inability to help McConnell and Co. find 50 Republican votes comes as the White House is dealing with declining approval ratings, including in key swing counties that helped him upset Democrat Hillary Clinton, as well as a seemingly ever-escalating scandal involving the Russian government and some of his top campaign aides, including Donald Trump Jr. and son-in-law Jared Kushner.
Republicans should just REPEAL failing ObamaCare now & work on a new Healthcare Plan that will start from a clean slate. Dems will join in!
The president started Tuesday by tweeting for all to “stay tuned” on health care, returning to what long has appeared his gut instincts about how to ditch Obama’s law and replace it with a Trump-GOP plan: “As I have always said, let ObamaCare fail and then come together and do a great healthcare plan.”
Republicans should just REPEAL failing ObamaCare now & work on a new Healthcare Plan that will start from a clean slate. Dems will join in!
Since the Senate took up its health overhaul effort in May, Trump has been — publicly, at least — a less visible presence than he was during the House effort. Aides explained that Trump was using a softer touch and tone because he has realized the Senate is a different animal than the House, where there were more potential deals to cut and Republican cats to herd.
The president’s own words and tweets during the Senate’s process to fashion a bill — which often seemed to contradict those of his communications, policy and legislative affairs shops — appeared to reveal a chief executive eager to leave some space between himself and whatever McConnell and his top deputies could piece together.
If they could craft a measure capable to garner 50 votes — with Vice President Mike Pence casting the decisive 51st — Trump and his top aides made clear he would sign it. After all, the businessman-turned-president who promised voters so much “winning” they would plead with him “we can’t take it anymore, we can't win anymore like this,” is in need of a major early-term legislative victory.
With only a very small majority, the Republicans in the House & Senate need more victories next year since Dems totally obstruct, no votes!
Yet, Trump never seemed that thrilled with the House bill, which he reportedly called “mean,” just the victorious vote. The same appeared true of the Senate bill, as his out-of-place comment during a July 27 meeting with most GOP senators at the White House showed.
“This will be great if we get it done,” he said that day. “And if we don’t get it done, it’s just going to be something that we’re not going to like — and that’s OK. I understand that very well.”
Still, however, the president did have at least partial ownership of the Senate bill. Trump told the Christian Broadcasting Network’s Pat Robertson last week “I will be very angry” if GOP senators failed to strike a deal on the Senate measure. “Mitch has to pull it off.”
And Democrats reacted quickly to try and tie Trump to the Senate failure.
“Instead of listening to the people they represent, Donald Trump, Mike Pence, and congressional Republicans ignored their constituents and met behind closed doors to craft legislation that would have devastated working families,” Democratic National Committee Chairman Tom Perez said in a statement released late Monday night.
“Make no mistake,” Perez said, “this bill’s defeat is a victory for human decency and for the millions of families who rely on the Affordable Care Act.”
Freshman Rep. Jimmy Gomez, 42, a California Democrat, talks about the time between his being elected and being sworn in, returning as a former Hill staffer, and his welcome to Washington compared to Montana Rep. Greg Gianforte’s.
Q: What has surprised you about Congress so far?
A: The House floor has been the most interesting for me because I come from a state legislature where everybody has a desk, there’s a specific hour that you vote. I feel like it’s part legislative body, part bizarre. … People are just trying to sell you on something on the floor — sign this, vote this way — and it’s kind of a little hustle and bustle with a little high school mixed in because everybody has their seating areas.
It’s different because you have one side of the aisle and you have the other. In California, we got away from that almost 15 years ago.
Q: What was your first day as a congressman like?
A: It was so much at one time. Most people have time to interview, get staff in order. I had to get staff in order and start voting almost immediately. It was nonstop, just the protocols and the culture that you have to learn.
Also, I just didn’t think how welcoming people were going to be. The members have been lending me interns and sending me food. The response of both sides of the aisle when I got sworn in was very positive.
I didn’t expect that because the gentleman from Montana that was sworn in made some comments and he got booed by his own colleagues, or somebody booed him. I think just how open and welcoming people have been. Very positive.
Q: Have you been able to meet the massive California delegation?
A: I’ve known a lot of them because I worked in politics in California for a while in some form or fashion. Now I’m getting to know people that were, for lack of a better term, sort of legends in politics. Nancy Pelosi has been in office way before I graduated from high school. Now, all of a sudden, I’m serving in the same capacity they are. Not exactly the same, but we’re both members of Congress and that makes it a little bit special. Lucille Roybal-Allard has been elected for decades and this seat that I’m in is actually her dad’s. So, it kind of gives me a perspective that I’m here because other people came before me.
The Republicans, I never knew. Kevin McCarthy and I joke around that he gave me a lot of attention for a couple of weeks (over the delay in his swearing-in), but I’ve always heard that he’s a pretty good-natured guy. I met Ed Royce a couple weeks ago at a dinner. He seemed really nice.
Q: In the time between when you were elected and sworn in, how did you fill it?
A: I came the week after I got elected just to have some interviews with leadership and start looking for staff. When I walked in, that was kind of the first strange part. I worked here for [former Rep.] Hilda Solis. I remembered saying that I wasn’t going to come back to D.C. until I was a member of Congress. This time, coming back, it felt strange because I knew I had to do this job, but I was trying to transition from my Assembly job. It was just two worlds tugging at me.
The member pin — the first day I was here, I was just walking around. Nobody even noticed me. Then I put this on and all of a sudden, the eyes started trailing me. I tried to get away without wearing it, or at least leaving my jacket, and it’s too late, people know who I am now.
Q: You’re interested in media literacy being taught in high school. How did this come about?
A: A lot of the fake news conversation came right after the 2016 election, but it’s something that had been discussed before Donald Trump ever ran for president. There was a study from Stanford University that our young people couldn’t really tell what was real and what was fake. I thought the best way to come up with it was somehow teaching, oftentimes, young people to spot how you tell what is fake, what is real.
Last book read: “I was reading a Harry Potter book in Spanish. I’m trying to work on my Spanish.”
Last movie seen: “Wonder Woman.”
Favorite song of all time: “I like musicals. In ‘La La Land,’ there’s this one, ‘Audition (The Fools Who Dream).’ I feel like the fools who dream and who take risks are the ones who change the world.”
Role model: “I don’t have one.”
Closest to in Congress: “Rep. Ruben Gallego, D-Ariz., is a friend of mine from before.”
And that was even before he started enduring attacks from within his own party.
In 2011, Heller, then a third-term congressman, was appointed to the Senate seat by Gov. Brian Sandoval after GOP Sen. John Ensign’s retirement amid an ethics investigation.
The following year, he won a full term under reasonably adverse conditions, considering President Barack Obama won the Silver State 52 percent to 46 percent over Mitt Romney. Heller defeated Democratic Rep. Shelley Berkley, 46 percent to 45 percent.
Not only did Heller fail to get a majority of the vote, but his opponent (Berkley) was under investigation by the House Ethics Committee. This cycle, the senator may not be as fortunate.
The most recent election results in Nevada are not encouraging for Republicans. Last cycle, GOP Rep. Joe Heck was regarded as a top-tier candidate but he lost to former state Attorney General Catherine Cortez Masto, 47 percent to 45 percent, in the race for former Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid’s seat. Clinton carried the state’s six electoral votes with a 48 percent to 46 percent victory over Donald Trump.
Some Republicans believe Heck fell short because he publicly backed away from Trump after the release of the Access Hollywood tape, angering enough Trump supporters to prevent the congressman from winning.
According to the exit polls, Heck won GOP voters, 86 percent to 8 percent. In comparison, Heller won Republicans, 90 percent to 5 percent, in his narrow 2012 victory. While both look like resounding victories, in close races, every percentage point matters. Winning Republicans by 85 points or by 78 points can be the difference between a statewide victory or a loss in a state as competitive as Nevada.
Heller is in danger of losing some votes from Trump supporters after opposing the draft Senate health care legislation crafted in response to the House bill. America First Policies, a pro-Trump outside group, went as far to air (and then pull) an attack ad against Heller for not going far enough to “repeal and replace Obamacare.”
It was a brazen move for the White House-aligned group to single out the Republicans’ most vulnerable senator for their attacks.
Heller has enough to worry about, outside of problems within his own party. He faces a credible, if unproven, Democratic challenger in 3rd District Rep. Jacky Rosen. She was first elected last year to Heck’s open seat, which Trump narrowly carried. But she did it against perennial candidate Danny Tarkanian, who might have been the only Republican capable of losing that race.
As a Republican senator with a potentially depressed base against a credible Democrat in a Democratic-leaning state, Heller is in for a rough ride this cycle. We’re changing the Inside Elections rating for the Nevada Senate race from Leans Republican to Toss-Up.
President Donald Trump is losing the Republican Congress.
The June 2016 meeting between a Russian lawyer and Donald Trump Jr., Jared Kushner and Paul Manafort, among others, underscores what was obvious to anyone paying close attention to the election before ballots were cast: Russia wanted Trump to win, and Trump wanted Moscow’s help.
Until that meeting was revealed, though, there was a little wiggle room for Trump’s reluctant defenders to dismiss evidence of collusion as circumstantial. Now, the furthest some are willing to go is to say that the president’s son hasn’t committed the most egregious offense against the nation.
“I’ve heard the word ‘treason,’” Rep. Adam Kinzinger, R-Ill., told CNN on Friday. “This isn’t treason.”
What a standard!
From what reporters have unearthed — and from what Trump Jr. has acknowledged publicly — it’s reasonable to raise the question of whether there was an exchange on the table. Russia’s allies offered information and, according to Trump Jr.’s own account, wanted to talk about adoption — a topic inextricably tied to U.S. sanctions on Russia.
Step back: No one, regardless of political party, should be comfortable with the idea that a campaign would even entertain the idea of accepting help from a foreign adversary attempting to influence American policy.
That doesn’t mean Speaker Paul Ryan, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell or other Republican leaders will disavow the president or initiate impeachment proceedings anytime soon. But the benefit of the doubt — the willingness of serious GOP lawmakers to provide cover for the president amid the Russia story — is gone.
The question now is what the various players — the White House, Congress, special counsel Robert Mueller and American voters — ought to do about Trump’s ties to Russia. We are in the midst of a national crisis that puts Watergate in perspective as a botched break-in. Instead, it’s like we’re living through a mashup of Hollywood’s best (or worst) 1960s-era government-off-the-rails films: “The Manchurian Candidate,” “Seven Days in May” and “Dr. Strangelove,” to name a few. Let’s hope we don’t stumble into “Fail Safe,” in which American bombers are mistakenly dispatched to nuke Moscow.
At least back then, we knew that Russia was an enemy.
If Trump were acting rationally, he would have spent the last six months distancing himself from Russia rather than sucking up to President Vladimir Putin. He would understand that, given the collusion between his camp and a foreign power, he should do everything in his power to prove that he’s in neither the thrall nor the pocket of Moscow’s power elite.
He would promote harsher sanctions against Russia rather than blocking them. He would denounce Putin as a despot and a thug rather than praising him as a tough guy. Surely, his administration wouldn’t toy with the idea of creating a joint cybersecurity task force with a country that infiltrated American systems and used the information to try to throw a presidential election. And he certainly wouldn’t be praising his son for seeking ways to collaborate with an American adversary.
Instead, Trump is behaving as a man who believes he has more to lose by alienating Putin than by subordinating American interests to Russian interests. Is that because he simply admires Putin and Russia or because he is actually indebted to them? Does it matter? Unless Trump changes his behavior — and he’s shown zero indication so far that he will — Congress will have to intervene to stop him.
Democrats in Congress would be wise to focus on their economic and social-policy platforms and let the media, federal investigators and the committees of jurisdiction dig into Trump’s Russia connections without the partisan flavor that has characterized so much of the discussion so far.
Republicans on the Hill would similarly do well to keep moving in the direction they seem to be headed: A serious probe of whether Trump or members of his inner circle committed any crimes, high crimes or misdemeanors, coupled with only the faintest of protestations against allegations that he acted improperly.
From a legal perspective, the key to all of this is Mueller’s investigation. On that matter, time is on Trump’s side. He would be wise to begin distancing himself from anyone who met with Russians on his behalf instead of heaping approval on them. At the appropriate time, he may decide to issue a binder full of pardons. Until then, it makes sense to keep those folks at a safer distance.
But on a political level, Trump’s fate rests with the voters. If they abandon him en masse, Republicans in Congress will move on him. If the vast majority of the GOP base sticks with him, their representatives in Congress will simply damn him and his team with faint praise — like “this isn’t treason” — for the next 16 months.
Roll Call columnist Jonathan Allen is a co-author of “Shattered: Inside Hillary Clinton’s Doomed Campaign” and has covered Congress, the White House and elections over the past 16 years.