The oldest of CQ’s annual studies, Key Votes is a selection of the major votes for both House and Senate for the past year. Editors choose the single vote on each issue that best presents a member’s stance or that determined the year’s legislative outcome. Charts of how each member voted on this list can be found at CQ.com.
16. FISA Reauthorization
Passage of a bill that would reauthorize for six years, through 2023, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, which governs electronic surveillance of foreign terrorism suspects. Passed 256-164 (R 191-45; D 65-119) on Jan. 11, 2018.
Much as they had in 2015, civil libertarians in the House GOP targeted the sunset of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act as a prime opportunity to roll back powers granted to intelligence agencies after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. The revelations, in 2013, by former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden, had bolstered their case by shining light on the fact that the communications of regular Americans were getting caught up in the dragnet. Three years earlier, the libertarians had successfully scuttled the National Security Agency’s collection of data on Americans’ phone calls — the numbers called and duration but not content — and they followed the same game plan in 2017, convincing the bipartisan leadership of the Judiciary Committee to back the effort. The panel moved legislation late in the year to add a new warrant requirement and oversight of the NSA’s use of section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. That section has allowed the agency to, in some situations, read the emails and listen to phone calls involving Americans, in the search for terrorist suspects.
The committee approved the measure on a bipartisan basis, but then it stalled. In 2015, House Republicans had joined forces with civil liberties advocates in the Democratic Party, with the blessing of then-President Barack Obama.
In the interim, however, terrorist attacks in the United States and in Europe had bolstered the position of security hawks. And whereas Obama backed the civil libertarians, President Donald Trump made it clear he preferred a permanent reauthorization of the expiring powers, without the warrant requirement or oversight. For Republicans eager to help their president, he was persuasive. When the House voted in January, it was on a Senate measure that gave Trump a clean reauthorization. The libertarians could claim a minor victory in that it was not permanent and they will have another opportunity to debate domestic surveillance in 2023.
Watch: Preview: A behind-the-scenes look at CQ’s 2018 Vote Studies
35. Trump Impeachment
Motion to table (kill) the resolution that would impeach President Donald Trump for high crimes and misdemeanors, and would provide that the resolution’s articles of impeachment be exhibited to the Senate. Motion agreed to 355-66 (R 234-0; D 121-66) on Jan. 19, 2018.
Just one month after forcing a vote on a failed impeachment resolution, liberal Democrats were at it again in January, and this time, they found more support for their efforts — but nowhere near enough to pass the resolution.
Al Green, a Texas Democrat, was able to prevail in getting a vote on the resolution that highlighted Trump’s “bigoted statements” and other actions, including a travel ban on citizens from majority-Muslim counties, his ambivalence about white nationalists who rallied in Charlottesville, Virginia, and his reported comments about people from “shithole countries” like Haiti.
In December 2017, 58 Democrats voted for a similar impeachment measure. This time around, 66 did so — over a third of the caucus — including moderate lawmakers like David Scott of Georgia. Three other Democrats voted “present.” Republicans were unanimous in their opposition.
Some vulnerable Democrats complained that the vote would put them in a tough position, especially in an election year: Cheri Bustos, who represents an Illinois district carried by Trump in 2016, said she was “disappointed” in the vote, calling it “self-inflicted damage.”
171. Auto Loan Rule
Passage of the joint resolution that would nullify and disapprove of a Consumer Financial Protection Bureau rule that provides guidance to third parties that offer indirect financing for automobile loans. Passed 234-175 (R 223-1; D 11-174) on May 8, 2018.
In 2018, Congress took the unprecedented step of eliminating a 2013 guidance document from the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau that sought to prevent discriminatory practices among auto lenders who had been accused of charging minorities higher interest rates. Critics had decried the regulation as a “back-door effort” to regulate auto loans.
Under normal circumstances, the CRA applies only to recently finalized rules and Congress has 60 legislative days to take action to disapprove. An agency rule that Congress has struck down using the CRA cannot be resubmitted in the future if it is “substantially the same” as the old one. In 2017, Congress struck down 15 recently finalized rules, a watershed after having utilized it only once before.
In the case of the auto-lending regulation, the CFPB did not notify Congress and the GAO, which under the law opened the door for Congress to act. The Government Accountability Office said the guidance could be treated as a rule under the CRA.
In April, the Senate passed the measure; just a few weeks later, the House took it up. Only one Republican voted “no” — Ileana Ros-Lehtinen of Florida. Eleven Democrats, all of them part of the fiscally conservative Blue Dog Coalition, joined with Republicans, and after the president’s signature later that month, the measure became law.
189. Veterans Health Care
Passage of a bill to consolidate programs that allow veterans to seek medical care outside of the VA into a new singular entity, the Veterans Community Care Program. The bill would continue the current VA Choice Program for one year, and would authorize an additional $5.2 billion for the costs of providing non-VA medical care through the old program and for transitioning to the new one. Passed 347-70 (R 231-0; D 116-70) on May 16, 2018.
Faced with expiration of the popular Veterans Choice program at the end of May, the House voted overwhelmingly to both extend and expand opportunities for veterans to seek health care outside of facilities run by the Department of Veterans Affairs.
The 347-70 vote provided another $5.2 billion for the Choice program, which began in 2014 in the wake of a national scandal about the quality of VA care. Designed as a temporary solution to the problems, the program allows veterans to seek care outside of the VA if they live more than 40 miles from a VA facility or have to wait more than 30 days for an appointment.
But the House, after months of negotiations with the Senate, went further toward privatization of veterans’ health care by creating a permanent entity within the VA called the Veterans Community Care Program to consolidate other initiatives providing care for veterans outside of the VA network.
Watch: A behind-the-scenes look at CQ’s 2018 Vote Studies
The bill also would establish a commission, similar to the Pentagon’s Base Realignment and Closure process, to review proposals from the VA to close existing facilities. Opponents argue the expansion of private care could weaken the VA’s existing operations, so negotiators added authorization of funds to recruit more VA doctors to garner support for the bill. As a result, the measure was widely supported by Democrats and veterans’ groups.
Movement on an overhaul of private care programs was a politically thorny issue for Congress and the Veterans’ Affairs committees that are known for bipartisan deal-making.
But the changes were largely forced by the VA’s 2014 scandal when patients were found to have died while waiting for care — some of whom were kept on wait lists outside of the formal patient scheduling system in an attempt to conceal long wait times for appointments.
216. Bank Regulations
Passage of a bill that would apply the more stringent bank regulation provisions of the 2010 financial overhaul to banks with $250 billion in assets, instead of those with at least $50 billion in assets. Passed, clearing it for the president, 258-159 (R 225-1; D 33-158) on May 22, 2018.
The House, in 2017, had led the way in using the 1995 Congressional Review Act to rescind regulations imposed toward the end of President Barack Obama’s presidency. But the financial rules imposed by the 2010 Dodd-Frank law, aimed at preventing another recession of the magnitude of that of 2007-09, were too long in force to be vulnerable to that line of attack. The review act requires that rules be relatively recent in order to trigger its expedited procedures for repeal.
To go after Dodd-Frank rules imposing “stress tests” on small and mid-sized banks and transparency requirements on smaller lenders, the Senate would have to lead. When Senate Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Chairman Michael D. Crapo, the Idaho Republican, forged a bipartisan deal to scale back Dodd-Frank, it was only a matter of time before the House followed.
After the Senate passed Crapo’s bill in March on a bipartisan basis, the House moved quickly. The vast majority of Democrats voted “no,” an indication of the different political dynamics facing representatives, where Democrats were ascendant, and senators, where several Democrats from states that President Donald Trump had won in 2016 were up for re-election. Still, with a united GOP caucus, the rollback of Dodd-Frank rules passed with ease.
297. DACA and Border Security
Passage of a bill to appropriate $23.4 billion for various border security activities. Included would be $16.6 billion for a “border wall system,” which would be available from fiscal 2019-27, and $6.8 billion for border security investments, which would be available from fiscal 2019-23. It would provide those with Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals status a six-year renewable contingent non-immigrant legal status and would allow them to apply for a green card after five years, providing a path to citizenship. It would modify legal immigration by ending the diversity visa program and reallocating those visas to other classifications. The bill would require that undocumented immigrants who are charged with a misdemeanor offense for improper entry into the United States be detained with their minor children. Rejected 121-301 (R 121-112; D 0-189) on June 27, 2018.
A last-ditch attempt to put billions of dollars into border security as requested by President Donald Trump failed miserably in June when a “compromise” immigration bill won only 121 Republican votes and none from Democrats.
The package crafted by the GOP’s moderate and conservative wings proposed to crack down on both legal and illegal immigration with $23.6 billion in investments, including a wall along the southern border, while offering a path to citizenship for so-called Dreamers, immigrants brought to the United States illegally as children who had been protected from deportation by the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program started by President Barack Obama in 2014.
But the DACA provisions in the bill turned out to be its downfall. Conservatives supported Trump’s plan to phase out the program and believed their base would punish them in the midterm elections if they went against the president. Democrats, who overwhelmingly support the Dreamers, did not want them be used as bargaining chips to secure funding for Trump’s border wall.
“Protecting Dreamers stands on its own merit,” House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, a California Democrat, had tweeted earlier in the month. Most Democrats also opposed new limits on legal immigration and ending the visa lottery.
After the bill’s defeat, Republicans acknowledged there would be no immigration overhaul unless the two parties developed legislation both could support.
“I think it’s important to recognize that it’s going to take a bipartisan bill that both addresses border security as well as a permanent fix for Dreamers,” said California’s Jeff Denham, who had worked with fellow Republican Carlos Curbelo of Florida throughout the spring gathering signatures to force votes on just such a measure, without success.
“I’m really troubled,” said Fred Upton, a Michigan Republican and one of the moderates who supported the doomed bill. “I don’t know what Plan B is going to be.”
In fact, there would be no Plan B for the remainder of 2018. When Congress moved at the end of the year to fund the rest of fiscal 2019 without money for a border wall, Trump said he would not sign the legislation and part of the government was shutdown for a record 35 days.
306. Justice Department Subpoenas
Adoption of the resolution that would insist that the Justice Department fully comply with the document requests and subpoenas issued by the Intelligence and Judiciary committees with regard to potential violations of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act by Justice Department personnel and related matters, by Friday, July 6, 2018. Adopted 226-183 (R 226-0; D 0-183) on June 28, 2018.
Ever since the probes began into Russian interference in the 2016 election, Republicans in Congress have run something of a rear guard action: subpoenaing information on the investigation, threatening the FBI and Justice Department when they don’t get what they want and requesting the launch of a second special counsel investigation to prove what they believe to be a plot against President Donald Trump.
On the same day Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein went to Capitol Hill to testify about all this, the House voted on a resolution calling for the release of documents from the Justice Department related to the Russia investigation and Hillary Clinton’s email server use.
During his testimony before the Judiciary Committee, Rosenstein, who oversees the investigation conducted by Special Counsel Robert S. Mueller III, told Republican Jim Jordan of Ohio: “I am not keeping any information from Congress.” Jordan, a Trump ally, retorted: “In a few minutes, Mr. Rosenstein, I think the House of Representatives is going to say something different.”
And the House did, with the vote playing out entirely along partisan lines.
For months, Republicans had been seeking information on Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) warrants used to surveil the Trump campaign and administration, specifically as it related to former Trump campaign aide Carter Page. They believe that the FISA warrant to surveil Page should not have been approved because it came from what they consider a dubious source — the dossier compiled by former British spy Christopher Steele. In May, the Judiciary Committee issued a subpoena to produce the information. Numerous Republicans, including Judiciary Chairman Robert W. Goodlatte and Intelligence Chairman Devin Nunes, complained that the FBI and Justice were not complying with their requests.
A month later, Jordan led a group of Republicans seeking the impeachment of Rosenstein, but that effort went nowhere as Speaker Paul D. Ryan said he preferred a less confrontational approach to getting fuller compliance. In September, however, following calls from Republican lawmakers, Trump took the extraordinary step of declassifying documents related to the Russia probe, including Page’s FISA warrant.
337. Border Law Enforcement
Motion to adopt a resolution that would express continued support for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement and all government entities tasked with law enforcement duties on or near the nation’s borders. It would also denounce calls to abolish ICE. Approved 244-35 (R 226-1; D 18-34) on July 18, 2018.
Amid an uproar over the Trump administration’s policy of separating families who illegally entered the United States at the southern border, some Democrats publicly called for abolishing Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the arm of the Department of Homeland Security charged with border security.
Republicans blasted the idea as a call for open borders and decided to force Democrats in the House to take a stand on the issue by putting a resolution of support for ICE on the floor in mid-July.
Majority Whip Steve Scalise, a Louisiana Republican, told Roll Call before the vote that Democrats who did not vote “yes” would have a hard time explaining their stance headed into the midterm elections.
“Voting ‘present’ means that they’re not willing to stand up for our men and women who sacrifice their lives to keep America safe,” Scalise said. “It’s a clear vote.”
But most Democrats did exactly what Scalise predicted and voted “present” as party leaders had suggested. In the 244-35 vote to approve the resolution, 18 Democrats voted to back ICE and 34 opposed the resolution (along with Republican Justin Amash of Michigan), while 133 voted “present.”
“This isn’t about whether you support ICE or not,” Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi said in a floor speech. “I’m going to vote present on it because they’ll use it politically,” the California Democrat added, noting members should vote how they wish but understand the vote is just about making a political point.
Republican leaders had originally planned to bring up a bill by Progressive Caucus members that would have terminated ICE after enactment of a more humane immigration enforcement system, but the authors of the bill said Democrats would have unanimously opposed it in protest to the GOP’s political ploy.
Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy said in a floor speech that he offered Democrats a vote on their bill and they said they’d vote against it. The California Republican accused the minority of wanting the glory of introducing a bill to appease the far left, but noted, “They didn’t have the guts to accept the consequences.”
415. Opioid Abuse Prevention and Health Programs
Motion to adopt a resolution to modify Medicare and Medicaid and a variety of other health programs in relation to opioid abuse. It would expand both Medicare and Medicaid to cover medication-assisted treatment for substance use disorder and would place new requirements on states regarding Medicaid drug review and utilization requirements. It would appropriate $15 million annually, from fiscal 2019-23, to support public health laboratories to detect synthetic opioids. Approved 393-8 (R 215-8; D 178-0) on Sept. 28, 2018.
The overwhelming vote for a bill addressing the nation’s opioid crisis culminated months of negotiations between the House and Senate. The consensus legislation, approved 393-8, includes new programs for prevention, treatment, research and enforcement in the use of prescription painkillers.
A few days before the House vote, negotiators from the two chambers came together on final revisions after the Congressional Budget Office estimated the bill would increase the deficit by $44 million over the next 10 years.
The new plan added two offsets to help pay for the bill.
One would require the makers of expensive biotech drugs and their potential generic competitors to inform the Federal Trade Commission if they have a financial deal that would delay the introduction of a copycat drug. The policy could result in savings if it results in biologic drugs facing competition from cheaper biosimilars more quickly.
The final agreement would also allow Medicaid funding for individuals to seek treatment at an inpatient substance abuse facility with more than 16 beds. Current law limits Medicaid reimbursement to facilities with fewer beds, though states are able to apply for waivers to bypass the regulation. CBO estimates that offset would save $32 million over 10 years.
Overall the bill would make a number of changes to Medicare and Medicaid to cover treatments for substance-abuse disorders. It would also help prevent illicit opioids from being shipped to the United States through international mail, provide grants to a variety of substance abuse prevention programs, and increase research on non-addictive painkillers.
432. Yemen Resolution
Adoption of the rule that would provide for floor consideration of the conference report to accompany the farm bill. The rule would also waive Section 7 of the War Powers Act for a concurrent resolution related to hostilities in Yemen. Passed 206-203 (R 202-18; D 5-185) on Dec. 12, 2018.
Republican leaders acted pre-emptively and used the rules process to prevent a likely floor vote on a Yemen resolution under the War Powers Act that was poised to pass the Senate.
The War Powers Act permits lawmakers to force a floor vote on a joint resolution directing the Pentagon to cease military operations not explicitly authorized by Congress. Republican House leaders were aware the Senate was about to pass a resolution ordering the Defense Department to end its mid-air refueling assistance to the Saudi-led coalition fighting in Yemen.
Amid bipartisan rancor from rank-and-file lawmakers over a number of Saudi human rights violations, Republican leadership was concerned the joint resolution might clear the House if allowed a floor vote. That could have set up a potentially embarrassing veto showdown with President Donald Trump, who was insistent on protecting his relationship with Saudi Arabia’s ruler, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.
In an effort to prevent such an outcome, GOP leaders during a Dec. 11 Rules Committee markup attached an amendment to the rule for consideration of the conference report for the must-pass 2018 farm bill. The amendment prevented for the remainder of the 115th Congress a vote on any privileged resolution regarding Yemen filed under the auspices of the War Powers Act.
Democrats opposed the rules maneuver, but they lacked the votes to stop it.
“This is one of the worst humanitarian crises in the world,” said the Rules Committee’s then-ranking Democrat, Jim McGovernof Massachusetts, describing the situation in Yemen, where Saudi Arabia is leading a military campaign. “We should not be shutting off the privileges of the House in terms of the War Powers Resolution.”
The actual vote backing the resolution to pass the farm bill was razor thin, 206-203. However, the closeness of the vote was attributed to two factors: frustration on the part of some Republicans with the price tag of the farm bill, and an eagerness on the part of the five Democrats who voted for the measure to finally clear the agriculture legislation for the president’s signature.
448. Criminal Justice Overhaul
Motion to approve a bill to reduce numbers of federally incarcerated individuals through changes in sentencing laws. The bill would seek to do so, in part, by allowing judges more flexibility when handing down sentences below the mandatory minimum for nonviolent drug offenders. It would also establish programs to provide support for prisoners returning to society in an attempt to reduce rates of recidivation. Approved 358-36 (R 182-36; D 176-0) on Dec. 20, 2018.
After years of debate, the House wrapped up its 2018 session by approving a sweeping criminal justice overhaul and sending it to President Donald Trump for his promised signature. The House passed the bill 358-36 in a year-end rush.
The measure united a diverse group of odd bedfellows, including Republican Robert W. Goodlatte of Virginia, who led negotiations on the bill as chairman of the Judiciary Committee, and liberals such as New York Democrat Hakeem Jeffries.
Among other provisions, the bill aims to lower the number of federal inmates through changes in some sentencing laws and through better support for prisoners returning to society so they don’t commit new crimes and return to prison.
The bill’s main provisions include modest changes to sentencing. It gives judges more freedom to hand down sentences below the mandatory minimum for nonviolent drug offenders, and it reduces mandatory minimums associated with the three-strikes law.
It eliminates a provision that prosecutors used to “stack” firearm charges for long sentences for first-time offenders. And it makes retroactive a 2010 law that reduced the sentencing disparity between crack and powder cocaine.
On the prison side, the bill creates more job training and drug treatment for inmates, among other changes. It increases direct spending by $346 million over the next 10 years, according to the Congressional Budget Office.
The action in Congress, and eventually by the White House, does not affect state prisons directly, which is where the majority of the country’s incarcerated people are held. Many of the provisions were modeled after initiatives in state prison systems that were successful in reducing costs and improving outcomes in the criminal justice system.
Passage of a bill to fund the government through Feb. 8, 2019. It would also authorize $5.7 billion for construction of a border wall on the U.S.-Mexico border, as well as an estimated $7.8 billion in emergency disaster relief funding. Passed 217-185 (R 217-8; D 0-177) on Dec. 20, 2018.
Everyone thought Congress was out the door for the holidays after the Senate passed a continuing resolution by voice vote Dec. 19, thus sending it over to the House for approval. But Trump, after taking flak from right-wing commentators for capitulating on getting less money than he wanted for a border wall, said he wouldn’t sign it.
The House instead passed this continuing resolution that included $5.7 billion for the wall, Trump’s desired amount, but a non-starter in the Senate. The result was a partial government shutdown that lasted a record 35 days.
Eight Republicans — a mix of fiscal hard-liners and moderates — joined Democrats in voting against the bill.
Trump had at least some reason to be irritated — after all, he had made building a wall along the southern border with Mexico the cornerstone of his 2016 campaign. Republicans had repeatedly warned him that shutting down the government in October over wall funding would be problematic during an election year, so the matter of Department of Homeland Security funding, along with six other spending bills, was punted to December.
The grim irony for Congress is that the most successful appropriations process in 20 years ended in calamity. Early on, following a deal to raise discretionary budget caps, appropriators hit on a strategy to package spending bills into so-called minibuses. Doing so forestalled “poison-pill” provisions that had tripped up spending bills in the past. In total, lawmakers passed five spending bills, which funded 75 percent of the government.
This story originally appeared in CQ Magazine’s “Annual Vote Studies & 2018 Key Votes” special report on Feb. 25.