Articles of Interest

GOP Unified Control Still Means Divided Congress

The demise of the Republican effort to repeal the 2010 health care law put an exclamation point on what has become obvious in Washington: The GOP, for all its enthusiasm following its election win last year, is too riven with dissension to meet ambitious goals it set out for itself.

And President Donald Trump seems to have oversold his skills as a deal-maker.

“On delivering on their campaign promises, it’s hard to pat them on the back and tell them they’ve done a good job,” said Sam Geduldig, a former aide to House Speaker John A. Boehner of Ohio, now a partner at the CGCN Group lobbying firm.

That said, the downfall of the Senate health care effort has obscured the achievements Congress has had.

History shows that “it is a mistake to expect big-ticket legislative accomplishments during the early months of presidents newly elected to the office,” said David Mayhew, the Yale political scientist who is perhaps America’s foremost student of congressional productivity.

The exceptions come in moments of crisis, such as early 1933, when President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed landmark legislation to regulate the sale of stock in response to the Great Depression, or early 2009, when President Barack Obama got his stimulus bill to revive an ailing economy.

Obama didn’t sign his health care law or his financial regulatory overhaul, Dodd-Frank, until his second year in office. President George W. Bush got a tax cut across the finish line in June of his first year but didn’t sign the biggest policy victory of his first Congress, the No Child Left Behind law, until January of the following year.

Trump and Republican leaders in Congress have set ambitious goals to overhaul the 2010 health care law and revamp the tax code. Prospects for both look bleak — GOP leaders announced last week they were throwing out their initial tax plan — but who knows?

It’s easy to foresee the 115th Congress setting a record for futility. But there have been achievements.

So far, the biggest GOP win was the confirmation of Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court, gained by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s decision to change Senate rules to allow a simple majority to confirm him — as well as hold the seat open more than year after Antonin Scalia’s death, depriving Obama of the chance at so much as a hearing for his nominee to succeed Scalia, Merrick G. Garland.

The Senate has confirmed every Trump Cabinet appointee it considered. Trump’s only loss on that front, his first Labor Department nominee Andrew Puzder, dropped out after acknowledging that he’d hired an unauthorized immigrant as a housekeeper.

Trump trails his three most recent predecessors, Obama, Bush and Bill Clinton, in the pace of his nominations and confirmations.

On the productive side of the ledger, this Congress did make innovative use of the Congressional Review Act, a 1996 law allowing it to rescind recently finalized regulations.

It had been used successfully once before, in 2001, when Bush signed a resolution revoking a rule by the Clinton Labor Department requiring employers to protect their workers from repetitive stress injuries: the ergonomics rule.

This year, Congress rescinded 14 Obama-era regulations to keep pollution out of streams and guns out of the hands of the mentally ill, among other things. Such CRA resolutions make up nearly a third of its legislative output.

It also sets a precedent future Congresses will surely mimic.

In May, Congress finalized fiscal 2017 spending. It came seven months after the fiscal year began, but was done without shutdown brinkmanship.

In June, Trump signed a law that marks a bipartisan win: a measure responding to the scandal at Veterans Affairs Department hospitals, where dying veterans were left waiting for appointments. The law makes it easier to fire VA employees for poor performance and for whistleblowers to come forward.

Still, Congress hasn’t made much progress on basic obligations. Fiscal 2018 appropriations bills have only begun to move, with no indication Republican leaders can, as promised, restore an orderly budget process.

The House passed a “minibus” spending bill Thursday covering four of the 12 annual appropriations bills for defense, military construction and veterans’ benefits, energy, and the legislative branch. It included $1.57 billion for barriers along parts of the U.S.-Mexico border.

There’s little likelihood it will be enacted in its current form. Because Democrats can block appropriations bills in the Senate, given the 60-vote threshold there, the two parties need to reach a deal to raise limits on defense and nondefense spending enacted in 2011.

Democrats don’t plan to go along with the wall funding, or the defense spending increase in the House bill if there are not comparable nondefense increases. Congress must raise the debt limit, too, this fall — always a fraught vote.

House Republicans hope to move a fiscal 2018 budget resolution when they return in September that would allow them to move forward with a tax overhaul using the fast-track budget reconciliation procedure. Reconciliation allows the Senate to pass measures that have budgetary effects such as taxes, spending and the deficit with only a simple majority.

But disagreements among Republicans over the centerpiece of the House GOP leaders’ initial tax proposal, a border adjustment tax that would have hit imports, prompted leadership on Thursday to ask the tax-writing committees to start over.

Meanwhile, Congress is making progress on other must-pass bills. The House has passed measures reauthorizing the Food and Drug Administration’s system of user fees — which help fund the agency — and a defense authorization bill. They await Senate action.

Both chambers are moving forward with legislation, due by Sept. 30, to reauthorize the Federal Aviation Administration. Progress is slow because of Trump’s plan to privatize the air traffic control system. The House has incorporated the proposal into its bill, but the Senate has rejected it. Republicans are divided over the idea, with rural members most likely to oppose it for fear it could hurt small airports.

And work has begun on reauthorization of the federal flood insurance program, also set to expire this year.

Another issue is what to do about surveillance authority granted to the National Security Agency in 2008 to collect emails of foreign terrorist suspects. The NSA’s dragnet at one time captured messages written by Americans who were not suspects but merely mentioned people who were, prompting an outcry from civil libertarians. The agency earlier this year said it was now only collecting emails to or from suspects.

Even so, the expiration of the authority at the end of this year will prompt a fight between security hawks who want to renew it, and civil liberties advocates who want to let it expire, or curtail it. Congress has made no progress on a resolution.

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Criticism of Trump Over Brennan’s Clearance Keeps Increasing
Sen. Mark Warner planning an effort to change presidential power over clearances

Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va., is drafting legislation to respond to President Donald Trump's move to strip former CIA Director John Brennan of his security clearance. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

The number of intelligence community officials who are blasting President Donald Trump for revoking former CIA Director John O. Brennan’s security clearance keeps going up.

And a key senator is drafting a legislative proposal to prevent a repeat.

3 Reasons Why Manafort Jurors Are Still Deliberating
Deliberations in trial of ex-Trump campaign aide will pick up again Monday

A protester is seen on July 31 outside the United States District Court in Alexandria, Va., where President Donald Trump’s former campaign chairman Paul Manafort is standing trial. (Sarah Silbiger/CQ Roll Call file photo)

The trial of former Trump presidential campaign manager Paul Manafort will continue next week after the judge dismissed jurors early Friday before they could issue a verdict.

The jury has now spent two days deliberating whether Manafort is guilty or innocent on none, some or all of the 18 counts of tax evasion and bank fraud he faces.

Manafort Trial Likely to Go Into Next Week
Jurors asked judge to be released at 5 p.m.

Jurors have deliberated for two days on the 18 bank fraud and tax evasion charges against former Donald Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort, shown leaving a hearing on his bail last year. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)

The trial of former Donald Trump presidential campaign manager Paul Manafort is likely to go into next week after the judge announced that jurors asked to leave Friday at 5 p.m.

Jurors asked shortly before 3 p.m. Eastern time that they be allowed to leave so one of them could attend “an event,” Judge T.S. Ellis III said. The announcement suggests that the jury is not close to reaching a verdict on the 18 bank fraud and tax evasion charges Manafort is being tried on.

Manafort Judge Says He’s Getting Death Threats
Judge T.S. Ellis III says he won’t reveal jurors information to prevent them from getting similar threats

The media set up microphones on July 31 in front of the United States District Court in Alexandria, Va., where President Donald Trump’s former campaign chairman Paul Manafort was standing trial. (Sarah Silbiger/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Updated 3:36 p.m. | The judge presiding over the trial of former Trump presidential campaign chairman Paul Manafort will not release the names and addresses of jurors to prevent exposing them to threats similar to what he has received, he said Friday.

Judge T.S. Ellis III said he has received death threats during the proceedings over the last few weeks and has had a U.S. marshals detail following him at all times.

Trump ‘Sad’ About Manafort, Won‘t Say Whether He‘ll Pardon Him
President also defends decision to revoke John Brennan‘s security clearance

Donald Trump, flanked from left by campaign manager Paul Manafort, and daughter Ivanka Trump, at the 2016 Republican National Convention in Cleveland, Ohio. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)

President Donald Trump declined Friday to say whether he would pardon his former campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, even as a jury deliberates over the 18 charges Manafort is facing related to tax and bank fraud. 

“I think the whole Manafort trial is very sad, when you look at what’s going on there. I think it’s a very sad day for our country,” Trump told reporters as he left the White House for fundraisers in New York.

Rep. Jim Himes: Top 3 Democratic Leaders in Late 70s Is ‘A Problem’
New Democrat Coalition chairman won‘t say whether he‘ll back Pelosi for speaker

Rep. Jim Himes, D-Conn., says it’s “a problem” that the top three House Democratic leaders are in their late 70s. (Sarah Silbiger/CQ Roll Call file photo)

The chairman of the centrist New Democrat Coalition wouldn’t say Friday whether he would back Nancy Pelosi for House Democratic leader but he did vocalize an issue with the current leadership team.

“The fact that our top three leaders are in their late 70s — I don’t care who those leaders are — that is in fact a problem,” Connecticut Rep. Jim Himes told CNN.

Lawmakers Wary of Potential Trump Cuts to Foreign Aid
Corker, Menendez doubt legality of reported plan

Senate Foreign Relations Chairman Bob Corker, R-Tenn., left, and ranking member Sen. Robert Menendez, D-N.J., doubt the administration has the legal authority to impound funds in the way they are reportedly planning. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Sources close to Capitol Hill and within the foreign aid community say that Trump administration officials are preparing a potential foreign aid “rescission” package that could cut between $2 billion and $4 billion in fiscal 2017 and fiscal 2018 funds from the State Department and U.S. Agency for International Development.

Some $200 million intended to benefit Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip is thought to be on the chopping block as part of the request, sources said.

Trump Paris-Bound in November to Watch a Military Parade Instead
President blames city for postponing military parade he wanted in Washington

President Donald Trump and French President Emmanuel Macron attend the traditional Bastille day military parade on the Champs-Elysees on July 14, 2017 in Paris (Thierry Chesnot/Getty Images file photo)

President Donald Trump plans to go to Paris in November to celebrate the Armistice Day, rather than hosting his own military parade in Washington, D.C.

Trump tweeted that he would also, “attend the big parade already scheduled at Andrews Air Force Base on a different date.”

Report: GOP Candidate for Dent’s Seat Faces Sexual Misconduct Allegation
Pennsylvania House hopeful Marty Nothstein says he is victim of anonymous smear campaign

The specific sexual misconduct allegation against Pennsylvania Republican House candidate Marty Nothstein is unclear, but stems from around 2000, when he won an Olympic gold medal in cycling. (MartyforPA.com/Screenshot)

Pennsylvania Republican congressional hopeful Marty Nothstein is facing an allegation of sexual misconduct stemming from nearly 20 years ago.

Nothstein, an Olympic gold medal-winning cyclist running in Pennsylvania’s new 7th District, has denied the allegation. 

Mother and Daughter Caught Up in Chris Collins’ Scandal Agree to Forfeit ‘Ill-Gotten’ Gains
Lauren Zarsky was the girlfriend of Collins’ son

Rep. Chris Collins, R-N.Y., was indicted for insider trading, along with his son Cameron and the father of Cameron’s then-girlfriend. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)

A mother-daughter pair caught up in New York Rep. Chris Collins’ alleged insider trading scandal have agreed to forfeit more than $42,000 of “ill-gotten” gains, according to media reports.

Lauren and Dorothy Zarsky agreed to pay a combined $42,040 to the Securities and Exchange Commission to avoid any federal charges related to Collins’ insider trading accusations, WHAM and the New York Law Journal reported Friday, citing court records.

EMILY’s List Latest to Back Katko Challenger
After fractious primary, Democrat-aligned groups coalescing behind Dana Balter in ‘key’ fight against GOP incumbent

Democrat-aligned groups are coalescing behind the challenge to Rep. John Katko, R-N.Y., in upstate New York's 24th District. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)

EMILY's list on Friday endorsed Dana Balter, Rep. John Katko’s challenger in upstate New York 24th District seat, the latest Democrat-aligned group to throw their weight behind her after months of internal party squabbles threatened to derail efforts to flip the seat. 

Barr Compares Time in Congress to Fighter Pilot Opponent’s Military Service
Kentucky Democrats say Barr has ‘obviously lost his mind’ in Toss-up House race

Republican Rep. Andy Barr said that both he and Democrat Amy McGrath “both served our country” in equating his time in Congress to his opponent’s military record. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Rep. Andy Barr is getting flak for comparing his three terms in Congress to opponent Amy McGrath’s 20 years as a fighter pilot in a hotly contest campaign for Kentucky’s 6th Congressional district. 

"We both served our country,” Barr told the New York Times Thursday. “I’ve served in a position where ideas matter. My opponent has served her country in the military, where execution matters.”

Space Force Could Be Compromised From the Get-Go, Watchdog Warns
Malicious actors could take advantage of Air Force’s laxity, according to report

An Air Force communications satellite is launched from Cape Canaveral in March 2017. (Courtesy U.S. Air Force)

The Air Force is not adequately monitoring the pedigree of parts that go into critical space systems, and they are consequently at risk of being compromised by America’s enemies, according to a Pentagon inspector general report released Thursday.

It was the second of four audits that Congress has ordered on the subject, and the results so far indicate a systemic failure to safeguard what goes into U.S. weapons and satellites.

Senate GOP Seeks Tax Law Fixes, Including ‘Retail Glitch’
Provision meant to reward store renovators would end up hurting them instead

Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, and other GOP tax writers have spotted some holes they want to plug in the new tax law. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Senate Finance Chairman Orrin G. Hatch said Thursday that Republicans are aiming to fix at least three glitches in last year’s tax code overhaul, including an error that has so far kept certain restaurants and retailers from taking advantage of a key tax break to renovate their storefronts.

In a letter to Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and acting IRS Commissioner David Kautter, Hatch and other Senate GOP tax writers said they will introduce legislation to plug holes in the new tax law like the so-called retail glitch.

Senate Busies Itself, Plus Chuck Norris and Some Cactus
The one-day work week is something we can all get behind

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., walks to the Senate floor on Thursday for the final vote of the week. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

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The Senate convened around noon on Wednesday. The Senate adjourned around 4:33 p.m. on Thursday. Now THAT is a work week!