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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Pelosi: Debt ceiling, caps deal possibly on floor next Thursday
To make the deadline, talks would need to wrap up by this Friday night in order to post legislative text sometime over the weekend

Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., holds her weekly news conference on Wednesday, July 17, 2019. Pelosi said negotiators on a deal to lift tight discretionary spending caps and raise the debt ceiling aim to have a bill on the House floor next Thursday. (Caroline Brehman/CQ Roll Call)

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said negotiators on a sweeping package that would lift tight discretionary spending caps and raise the debt ceiling are aiming to have a bill on the House floor next Thursday.

Accordingly, the California Democrat said, talks would need to wrap up by this Friday night in order to post legislative text sometime over the weekend, required under the House’s rule that 72 hours’ notice is necessary for lawmakers to read bills before voting on them. “When we have an agreement we’ll write it up, and we have to do all of that by Friday evening,” Pelosi told reporters.

Leahy casts his 16,000th vote, joining an exclusive Senate club
No currently serving senators have cast more career votes

Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., cast his 16,00th vote Wednesday. (Photo by Caroline Brehman/CQ Roll Call)

“Just a little perspective, imagine taking 16,000 pennies and stacking them one on top of the other, they’d surpass the height of the Washington Monument. They’d more than double the height of the Capitol dome,” said Schumer. “It’s a reminder that a multitude of smaller actions and the accumulation of smaller accomplishments over a lifetime of quiet dedication can amount to a great monument of achievement.“ 

After accolades and congratulations, Leahy had some words of his own. 

Amid Apollo 11 celebration, NASA head warns a lengthy CR would be ‘devastating’ for moon return hopes
Sen. Moran asked Administrator Bridenstine for help winning over former House colleagues

The image of a Saturn V, the rocket that sent Apollo 11 into orbit on July 16, 1969, is projected on the Washington monument on July 16, 2019, to mark the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 mission to land the first man on the moon. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

With celebrations underway marking the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 mission, the NASA administrator is warning that a  full-year continuing resolution like one recently floated by the Trump administration would be “devastating” to U.S. efforts to get back to the moon.

Administrator Jim Bridenstine, who was at the Senate Commerce Committee Wednesday for a hearing on space exploration to the moon and Mars, was asked about the consequences of a stopgap spending bill rather than a full fiscal 2020 spending plan by Chairman Roger Wicker, a Mississippi Republican.

Rep. Cleaver: ‘Forget’ Trump's tweets... ‘We can't continue to react to this’
Missouri Democrat abandoned House presiding chair amid partisan bickering over vote to condemn Trump’s racist tweets

Democratic Rep. Emanuel Cleaver  abandoned the presiding chair of the House Tuesday amid partisan bickering over a resolution to condemn President Donald Trump’s racist tweets against four Democratic congresswomen. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)

A day after Rep. Emanuel Cleaver abandoned his post presiding over House proceedings in frustration over bickering between Republicans and Democrats, the Missouri Democrat urged lawmakers and the American people to ignore President Donald Trump’s online antics as he “tweets away his presidency.”

“We can’t continue to react to this,” Cleaver said Wednesday on CNN’s “New Day” about the chaos that ensued as Democrats tried to hold a vote to condemn racist tweets the president posted over the weekend attacking four minority female congresswomen.

Kentucky Republican senators divide on tax treaties package
Paul said McConnell ‘sabotaged’ efforts to put privacy protections into treaties with Spain, Japan, Luxembourg and Switzerland

Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., challenged Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., over tax treaties package saying that McConnell had 'sabotaged' his effort for privacy protection. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

In a bit of a cross-state rivalry, Kentucky GOP Sens. Mitch McConnell and Rand Paul took swipes at each other on the Senate floor over a package of tax treaties with Spain, Japan, Luxembourg and Switzerland that Paul claims will violate the privacy of Americans living overseas.

Paul for years has held up these treaties, which set up bilateral tax rules to prevent double taxation of companies domiciled in the U.S. and partner countries. In a floor speech late Tuesday, Paul said McConnell had “sabotaged” his efforts to put privacy protections into the treaties.

Defense conferees to decide fate of firearms export oversight
Decision nears on blocking the Trump administration from weakening regulations on the export of firearms

Rep. Norma Torres, D-Calif. added an amendment restricting the administration from moving forward with its plan to shift export control of firearm sales from the State Department to the Commerce Department (File photo by Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

Among the many thorny issues Senate and House negotiators have to hash out as they negotiate a final annual defense policy bill this summer is whether to block the Trump administration from weakening regulations around the export of firearms.

The House version of the fiscal 2020 defense authorization measure contains a provision that would restrict the administration from moving forward with its plan to shift export control of firearm sales from the State Department to the Commerce Department.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez to meet one-on-one
A rift between Pelosi and Ocasio-Cortez has deepened in recent weeks

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., center, and Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., left, pose for a group photo of House Democrats in the Capitol Visitor Center, at the State of the Union address earlier this year. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Leaders likely to sidestep direct vote as House considers Al Green impeachment articles
Pelosi opposes measure, which members expect to be tabled or to be referred to Judiciary to dispense of it

Rep. Al Green, D-Texas, is pushing for a vote as soon as possible on his articles of impeachment against President Donald Trump. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)

The House is likely to take up Rep. Al Green’s privileged impeachment resolution against President Donald Trump during a Wednesday evening vote series, two Democratic aides confirmed after the Texas Democrat told reporters the vote would occur then. 

Democratic leaders had not yet decided how to dispense with the measure as of midday Wednesday, but several members said they expect a motion to refer it to the Judiciary Committee or to table it rather than a direct vote.

Pricey pension rescue headed to House floor next week
Bill would provide financial lifelines to union pension plans

House Ways and Means Chairman Richard Neal, D-Mass., confirmed the pensions bill is ready for a floor vote. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)

House Democrats will bring a $64.4 billion measure that would provide financial lifelines to union pension plans to the floor next week.

House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer and House Ways and Means Chairman Richard E. Neal, the bill’s author, on Tuesday confirmed the schedule for the legislation, which has gone through the Ways and Means as well as Education and Labor panels.

Pelosi, Mnuchin appear close to spending caps, debt limit deal
Agreement would likely include a two-year extension of the debt limit and spending levels

Pelosi reiterated Tuesday her view that in addition to "parity" for nondefense and defense spending increases, funding should be added for Department of Veterans Affairs health care. (Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin are close to making an announcement about spending caps and the debt limit.

“We have a clear understanding of what we want to agree to, and I think that's progress,” Pelosi said Tuesday afternoon after speaking with Mnuchin, who was preparing to leave Wednesday for the G-7 meeting in France. “We'll have an announcement about something soon, one way or the other.”

With racist tweets and comments, Trump signals bare-knuckle reelection fight
“He’s willing to go as far as he wants and needs,” GOP strategist says

President Donald Trump speaks to members of the media over the roar of Marine One's engines on the South Lawn of the White House on Friday. (Photo by Caroline Brehman/CQ Roll Call)

“Quiet! Quiet! Quiet! Quiet!” With those four words, President Donald Trump threw onto the 2020 canvas the political boxing gloves he ripped off Sunday with two racist tweets.

An animated-then-aggressive Trump was demanding silence of a reporter, under an intense July sun during an impromptu Monday press conference. The reporter had agitated the president by asking if he was “OK” with people viewing his tweets about four Democratic freshmen — Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York, Ilhan Omar of Minnesota, Rashida Tlaib of Michigan and Ayanna S. Pressley of Massachusetts — as “racist.”

House’s condemnation of Trump may just be the beginning
Now the debate is over push by some Democrats for impeachment

Speaker Nancy Pelosi and senior aide Wendell Primus leave the House floor on Tuesday as turmoil gripped the chamber. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

Although Tuesday’s long day of heated debate ended with the House voting to condemn President Donald Trump for racist tweets, the chamber’s brawl over the president’s behavior may be just beginning. 

The House voted, 240-187, to approve a nonbinding resolution that says the chamber “strongly condemns” Trump’s “racist comments that have legitimized and increased fear and hatred of new Americans and people of color.”

House floor erupts into chaos after Nancy Pelosi remarks criticizing Trump
Cleaver sets down gavel after lamenting members just want to fight

Rep. Emanuel Cleaver III abandoned the House floor Tuesday after a parliamentary skirmish (Screenshot, C-SPAN)

GOP leaders aren’t calling Trump’s tirade racist

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., leaves the Senate Republicans’ policy lunch in the Capitol on Tuesday, July 16, 2019. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

“No,” House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy said when asked if President Donald Trump’s tweet attacking four lawmakers of color was “racist.”

Senators press census chief on cyber, outreach fears
After citizenship question abandoned, worries continue

Sen. Gary Peters, D-Mich., arrives in the Capitol building for a vote on April 10, 2018. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

The Census Bureau’s chief on Tuesday pushed back on concerns about cyberattacks and outreach in rural areas in testimony before the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee.

In the first congressional testimony by a bureau official since the Trump administration dropped a citizenship question from the 2020 census, the issue was only briefly addressed. Senators instead focused on the implementation of the count next year, which will be the first to rely primarily on online responses. That change has raised fears of cyber intrusions and technology shortfalls.