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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Trump Ties Sinema to Schumer Even Though She Says She Won’t Support Him
Sinema and McSally face off in Toss-up Arizona Senate race for Flake’s seat

President Donald Trump arrives with Arizona Republican Senate nominee Martha McSally for a rally in Mesa, Ariz., on Friday. (Ralph Freso/Getty Images)

President Donald Trump, rallying in Arizona on behalf of Republican Senate candidate Martha McSally, sought to tie her Democratic opponent Kyrsten Sinema, to Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer even though Sinema said she won’t support him.

A vote for Sinema is “dangerous” because “it’s for Schumer, crying Chuck,” Trump told rallygoers Friday night at an airport hangar in Mesa. 

Scalise Condemns Angry Mob — One Targeting Democrats This Time
Majority whip calls Florida protesters’ actions the “wrong way” to confront Pelosi

Rep. Steve Scalise, R-La., second from left, here in 2008 during a mock swearing-in ceremony with Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif. (Scott J. Ferrell/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Hours after dismissing as a joke President Donald Trump’s praise of a Republican congressman who assaulted a reporter, House Majority Whip Steve Scalise came to the defense of a Democratic political foe who, ironically, was confronted by an angry mob

The Louisiana lawmaker has been one of the lead Republicans attacking Democrats as an “angry mob” after several reported incidents of violence or threats against GOP candidates and volunteers.

Trump Calls Saudis’ Khashoggi Admission ‘Good First Step’
Kingdom says dissident journalist was killed in “fistfight” at Istanbul consulate

A person dressed as Saudi Arabian Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman and another dressed as President Donald Trump demonstrate with members of the group Code Pink outside the White House on Oct. 19 to protest the killing of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi. (Win McNamee/Getty Images)

President Donald Trump on Friday called Saudi Arabia’s admission that a prominent dissident journalist died at its consulate in Turkey and the announcement that the kingdom has fired five top officials and arrested 18 unnamed individuals in conjunction with its investigation “a good first step.”

His comments came after Saudi Arabia said Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi was killed in a “fistfight” at its consulate in Istanbul, the first time it has acknowledged his death. 

NRCC Cuts off Coffman in Colorado, Boosts Salazar in Florida
GOP’s prospects of holding Ros-Lehtinen’s seat appear to have improved

Rep. Mike Coffman, R-Colo., is facing a tough re-election in Colorado’s 6th District. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)

The House Republicans’ campaign arm on Friday cut its reservation in what’s long been one of the most competitive districts in the country and redirected that money, plus some more, to a Florida district that wasn’t expected to be seriously in play several months ago.

The National Republican Campaign Committee cut a $1 million reservation in Colorado’s 6th District, where GOP Rep. Mike Coffman is running for re-election. A perennial Democratic target, Coffman has proved elusive in past cycles. But running against veteran Jason Crow in a favorable national environment for Democrats, he looks to be in trouble this year. Inside Elections With Nathan L. Gonzales rates the race Tilts Democratic

Both Parties Seek to Energize Base Voters on Health Issues
As Republicans talk Obamacare repeal, Democrats re-emphasize top issue

Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer and other Democrats are seizing on comments by Republicans to put health care front and center as the election approaches. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

Democrats are seeking to energize their core supporters by repeating Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s remark this week that Republicans hope to revive a push to overhaul the 2010 health care law.

“McConnell gave us a gift,” Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer told MSNBC on Friday. “That’s a game-changer when he shows who he is and wants to really hurt people on health care.”

Jason Lewis Campaign Calls Release of Talk Show Tapes a ‘Hit Job’
CNN resurfaces more controversial comments Minnesota Republican made on talk show

Minnesota Rep. Jason Lewis is running for a second term in the 2nd District and faces Democrat Angie Craig again. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Among those who weren’t surprised that old comments from Minnesota Rep. Jason Lewis’ radio talk show days were published by CNN on Friday?

The freshman Republican congressman.

Russia, China, Iran Aim to Sway Elections, Officials Warn
First came the dire election warning. Minutes later, more Russian meddling charges

Intelligence and homeland security officials are concerned about election meddling — and not just by Russian President Vladimir Putin. China and Iran are also threats. (Sean Gallup/Getty Images)

The Justice Department on Friday charged a Russian woman with election interference just as top U.S. intelligence and law enforcement agencies warned that Russia, China, and Iran are running influence campaigns seeking to sway American voters in the 2018 midterms and the 2020 presidential campaigns.

“We are concerned about ongoing campaigns by Russia, China and other foreign actors, including Iran, to undermine confidence in democratic institutions and influence public sentiment and government policies,” said the statement issued jointly by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, the Justice Department, the FBI, and the Department of Homeland Security. “These activities also may seek to influence voter perceptions and decision making in the 2018 and 2020 U.S. elections.”

Day After Praising Assault on Reporter, Trump Attacks Democrats As ‘Angry Mob’
Trump posts video message to Twitter saying Democrats are ‘losing it,’ hopes for unity someday

A day after praising a Republican congressman for assaulting a reporter, President Donald Trump posted a video message on Twitter Friday calling Democrats an "angry mob" that is "losing it." (Sarah Silbiger/CQ Roll Call file photo)

A day after praising a Republican congressman for assaulting a reporter, President Donald Trump posted a video message on Twitter Friday calling Democrats an “angry mob” that is “losing it.”

“We should be a unified country,” Trump said. “It will happen someday.”

Scalise Defends Trump Joking About Gianforte Assaulting a Reporter
Majority whip says Trump was ‘ribbing’ Gianforte, not asking his supporters to engage in violence

Majority Whip Rep. Steve Scalise, R-La., defended President Donald Trump’s support of a congressman’s assault on a reporter as a joke that does not equate to Democrats’ inciting violence against Trump supporters and Republican candidates. (Sarah Silbiger/CQ Roll Call file photo)

House Majority Whip Steve Scalise has been on TV, Twitter and writing op-eds criticizing Democrats for inciting violence, but on Friday he defended President Donald Trump’s comments about a congressman’s assault on a reporter as simply a joke.

Last year Montana Rep. Greg Gianforte body slammed Guardian reporter Ben Jacobs after the reporter tried to ask him questions about his views on a GOP health care plan. 

New York Man Arrested for Kavanaugh Confirmation Death Threats
Ronald DeRisi allegedly threatened two senators for their votes on Supreme Court justice

Protesters opposed to Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh rally at the Supreme Court after a march on October 4, 2018. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

A 74-year-old Long Island man has been arrested on charges of threatening to injure or kill two senators over their support of confirming Justice Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court.

The allegations against Ronald DeRisi are made in a filing in federal court in New York’s Eastern District.

Ryan Zinke Violated Travel Policy, Interior Watchdog Finds
IG report details family member ride-alongs, $25,000 in vacation security

Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke invited family members ride with him in government vehicles, an inspector general reporter found. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

An Interior Department watchdog found that Secretary Ryan Zinke violated federal policy when he let his family members travel with him in government vehicles, although he had reimbursed the department.

A copy of the department’s inspector general report was sent to Congress and was provided to Roll Call by a congressional aide on Thursday.

White House Press Group Chides Trump for ‘Body Slam’ Comment
‘Any guy who can do a body slam — he’s my guy,’ Trump said in support of Rep. Greg Gianforte

Rep. Greg Gianforte, R-Mont., waves to constituents at the Crow Fair in Crow Agency, Mont., on Aug. 18. Gianforte was convicted of assaulting a reporter last year. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

The White House Correspondents’ Association has formally criticized President Donald Trump for his comments Thursday evening in Montana promoting the physical assault of a reporter by Republican Rep. Greg Gianforte.

“All Americans should recoil from the president’s praise for a violent assault on a reporter doing his Constitutionally protected job,” WHCA President Olivier Knox said in a statement issued Friday.

Poll: Health Care a Top Issue For Midterm Voters
Both nationally and in Florida and Nevada, voters focused on health care

Sens. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., right, and Bill Nelson, D-Fla., are running for re-election amid a national electorate focused on health care. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

A majority of individuals rank health care as a “very important” issue in determining who they plan to vote for, according to a new poll that looks at prospective voters nationally as well as in two key battleground states.

Thirty percent of those polled nationally selected health care as the “most important” issue, outranking the economy, immigration, and gun policy, according to data from the nonpartisan Kaiser Family Foundation.

Report Casts Doubt on ‘Unhinged’ Duncan Hunter Ad
An attack ad looks to tie his opponent to terrorism through a Muslim civil rights group

Rep. Duncan Hunter, R-Calif., walks down the House steps after final votes of the week in the Capitol on Thursday, Feb. 15, 2018. (Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

A report Friday raises new doubts about Rep. Duncan Hunter’s claim that his opponent accepted contributions from an Islamic advocacy group, intensifying criticisms that the congressman has relied on a racist line of attack based on Democratic opponent Ammar Campa-Najjar’s Palestinian heritage in the final stretch of his campaign.

An attack ad casts Democrat Campa-Najjar’s contributions from the Council on American-Islamic Relations as part of a “well-orchestrated plan to infiltrate Congress.”

Lawyer With Ties to Jim Renacci Releases Unnamed Sherrod Brown Accuser’s Statement
Brown campaign issues cease and desist letter against ‘unsubstantiated and false claims about something that never happened’

Ohio Republican Rep. Jim Renacci says a women approached him with sexual assault claims against Democratic Sen. Sherrod Brown, which the Brown campaign calls “unsubstantiated and false claims about something that never happened.” (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Lawyer Laura Mills released a statement Thursday through Ohio Republican Senate candidate Jim Renacci’s campaign providing more details on a sexual misconduct allegation against Sen. Sherrod Brown stemming from an incident in the late 1980s.

The Ohio Democrat has previously called Renacci’s unsubstantiated claims of improper sexual conduct by him “desperate.”