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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What is Andrew Gillum so hyped about?
 

Some climate change panel members are literally invested in the issue
Panel members have investments in fossil fuel companies, and at least two have ties to clean-energy industries

Rep. Kelly Armstrong, R-N.D., attends a House Oversight and Reform Committee business meeting in the Rayburn Building in January. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

One member of the House committee created to address climate change stands out for what he owns: hundreds of oil and gas wells in North Dakota oil fields worth millions of dollars.

Rep. Kelly Armstrong, a Republican from North Dakota, received at least $400,000 from those wells and as much as $1.1 million in the previous year, as well as $75,000 in salary from Armstrong Corp., his family’s oil and gas business. He also owns at least 289 wells, worth between $2.9 million and $11.5 million, though in a recent interview Armstrong said he owns more than 300 wells.

Trump lobs pre-emptive strike against Biden after weekend gaffe
The president pounced on Biden after a weekendlong Twitter screed

Former Vice President Joe Biden speaks in Nevada in 2018. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Former Vice President Joe Biden hasn’t formally announced he will run for president, but Donald Trump is already treating him like a potential 2020 contender.

The president pounced on Biden’s slip of the tongue at a dinner in Delaware Saturday night that reportedly drew a standing ovation from attendees who collectively interpreted the gaffe as a signal the former VP will announce his third White House bid.

Rep. Steve King posts meme bragging red states have ‘8 trillion bullets’
Post theorizing a hypothetical civil war comes at a time when leaders have called for more thoughtfulness

Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa, posted a meme to Facebook Saturday about a hypothetical civil war. (CQ Roll Call file photo)

Rep. Steve King posted a meme Saturday about a hypothetical civil war between “blue states” fighting over which bathroom to use and “red states” with trillions of bullets.

The post is an image of two figures composed of traditionally Democratic-leaning and Republican-leaning states in fighting postures with text superimposed over top. The caption reads: “Folks keep talking about another civil war. One side has about 8 trillion bullets, while the other side doesn’t know which bathroom to use.”

Beto O’Rourke breaks presidential fundraising record with $6.1 million haul
Texas Democrat on campaign swing through states Trump won in 2016 after launching campaign Friday

Democratic presidential candidate Beto O'Rourke shakes hands as he arrives at a St. Patrick’s Day party in Dubuque, Iowa, on Saturday. (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

Beto O’Rourke raised a record-breaking $6.1 million in the first 24 hours after announcing his presidential campaign on Friday.

The former Texas Democratic congressman collected $6,136,763 from donors in every U.S. state and territory, his campaign announced in a news release Monday.

His fiancée was murdered while running. Now he’s racing in the Boston Marathon
Wendy Martinez, 35, was stabbed to death in September while out for a run in Logan Circle

Daniel Hincapie, the fiancé of Wendy Martinez, who was killed while jogging in September, attends FiscalNote’s ReInvent Summit to announce The Wendy Martinez Legacy Project (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

Six months after Wendy Martinez was murdered while out for a run in her neighborhood, her fiancé is close to fulfilling her lifelong dream — racing in the Boston Marathon.

Daniel Hincapie will join a team put together by the Lingzi Foundation, a group that honors Lu Lingzi, who died during the marathon bombing in 2013.

Graves sees a positive role for GOP in new select climate committee
Louisiana Republican is optimistic some bipartisan ideas can come out of the panel

Rep. Garret Graves, R-La., right, here in May 2018 with Reps. Beto O’Rourke, D-Texas, and Vicky Hartzler, R-Mo., is the ranking member on the Select Committee on the Climate Crisis. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Rep. Garret Graves says he wasn’t keen on joining the select committee to address climate change formed by the new Democratic House majority in January.

But on Feb. 28, weeks after the Select Committee on the Climate Crisis had been formed and long after the Democrats had announced their roster, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy appointed the Louisiana Republican as co-chairman.

Ph.D. student faces deportation to Liberia, where she has never lived
Trump administration has announced DED program will end March 31

Yatta Kiazolu has never lived in or visited Liberia, but she could be deported there if the Trump administration is successful in ending the DED program for Liberians. (Courtesy Yatta Kiazolu)

Yatta Kiazolu moved to Los Angeles from Delaware to pursue her dream of obtaining a Ph.D. in history at UCLA.

But as she approaches her final year of the program, her dreams of walking across the stage with her degree in hand seem further and further away as her temporary visa status will expire at the end of this month. And she could be deported to Liberia, a country in which she has never lived, or even visited.

Not green with envy: People who missed Friends of Ireland lunch

From left, Massachusetts Rep. Richard E. Neal, President Donald Trump, Irish Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and Speaker Nancy Pelosi follow Senate Sergeant-at-Arms Michael Stenger and House Sergeant-at-Arms Paul Irving down the House steps after the annual Friends of Ireland luncheon on Thursday. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

Regardless of how you spend your St. Patrick’s Day, it’s not likely to be as awkward as the Friends of Ireland luncheon at the Capitol this year.

Irish Taoiseach Leo Varadkar found himself Thursday in close quarters with Speaker Nancy Pelosi and President Donald Trump, one day before the president vetoed a resolution Congress passed to terminate his national emergency declaration on the southern border. Amid all that, Trump found time to discuss Brexit, which the Irish are concerned will erect a hard border between Ireland and Northern Ireland. 

Utah bill would give primary voters less say on who appears on special election ballots
Measure is latest development in yearslong struggle over party nomination process

Rep. John Curtis, R-Utah, right, with his wife, Sue, and Speaker Paul D. Ryan at his mock swearing-in ceremony in November 2017. Curtis won his special election after successfully petitioning to get on the GOP primary ballot. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Utah voters would have fewer opportunities to weigh in on candidates to fill certain congressional seats under legislation that quietly passed the state Legislature this week. 

The bill, which has yet to be signed by the governor and has so far received little attention from local media, would change the process through which candidates appear on primary ballots in special elections to replace House members who resign in the middle of their terms. For those elections, an option for candidates to make it to the ballot by petitioning voters would be eliminated. Only candidates nominated by delegates from either party would be able to run. 

Trump issues first veto, killing resolution to block border national emergency
Bipartisan resolution 'dangerous’ and ‘reckless,’ POTUS says

President Donald Trump speaks during a Rose Garden event at the White House on Feb. 15, to declare a national emergency at the southern border. (Alex Wong/Getty Images)

“VETO!” President Donald Trump vowed in a Thursday tweet about a resolution to block his southern border national emergency, a pledge he made good on Friday.

Moments before he signed the veto, he called the bipartisan resolution “dangerous” and “reckless,” and said lawmakers’ votes to pass the measure were made “against reality.”

Navy spends epically on shoddy ships
CQ on Congress podcast, Episode 144

E8MKBB Pacific Ocean, April 23, 2014 - The littoral combat ships USS Independence (LCS 2), left, and USS Coronado (LCS 4) are underway. (Photo: Alamy)

Gohmert trashed on Twitter over his reaction to New Zealand massacre
Texas GOP rep said there are alternatives to ‘resolve controversies’ instead of ‘cold blooded murders’

Texas Republican Rep. Louie Gohmert holds a news conference on border security outside of the Capitol in January. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Rep. Louie Gohmert was skewered Friday for his statement after a white supremacist shot Muslims at two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand, killing 49 people.

“There are courts, dispute resolutions, and legislatures to resolve controversies — there is no place for cold blooded murder,” the Texas Republican said in his statement.

Some House Democrats say New Zealand massacre a reminder of hate at home
Congress reacts to terror attack at two mosques in Christchurch

People in front of the Masjd Al Noor Mosque in Christchurch, New Zealand, as they await news on relatives after at least 49 people people were killed in a terror attack on two mosques. (Kai Schwoerer/Getty Images)

U.S. lawmakers grieved for New Zealand on Friday after a terror attack at two mosques there killed 49 people — and some House Democrats said the episode served as a reminder that Congress must stamp out hate at home.

Mass shootings have plagued the U.S. in recent years, with minority and religious groups often the targets.

Capitol Police arrest Rayburn projection protester, confiscate equipment
Equality Act protest projection results in arrest by Capitol Police

Capitol Police arrested a man who was projecting the words "Discrimination is Wrong" onto the Rayburn House Office Building. (Photo: Robin Bell)

Capitol Police arrested a man projecting the words “Discrimination is Wrong” onto the Rayburn House Office Building Wednesday night. Robert Diesu, a collaborator of projection artist Robin Bell, was arrested and USCP seized a laptop computer, battery, projector and stand as evidence.

Capitol Police told Roll Call in a statement that Diesu was arrested at about 8 p.m. for “unlawful demonstration on Capitol Grounds by projecting an image on the Rayburn House Office Building.”