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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Government shutdown pushing Metro off the rails to the tune of $400K every weekday
Issues could get worse if benefits are not transferred after January 21

Metro is facing $400,000 in lost revenue each business day that the government is partially shut down . (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Metro, which operates trains buses and parking garages in and around Washington, D.C., is losing roughly $400,000 from its receipts for every business day that the partial government shutdown persists.

That revelation from WMATA General Manager and CEO Paul Wiedefeld came in a letter to the Democratic senators from Maryland and Virginia who represent many users of the Metro system, including federal employees.

GOP congressman apologizes to Democratic rep for ‘Go back to Puerto Rico’ outburst
Rep. Jason Smith said he was referring to trip House and Senate Democrats took to Puerto Rico during shutdown

Democratic Rep. Tony Cárdenas said he accepted an apology from Republican Rep. Jason Smith  for a comment Smith made on the House floor Thursday. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Republican Rep. Jason Smith called Democratic Rep. Tony Cárdenas and apologized Thursday for blurting out “Go back to Puerto Rico” while Cárdenas was waiting to speak on the House floor.

Cárdenas, a descendant of Mexican immigrants, accepted the Missouri Republican’s apology, said in a statement to Roll Call.

House Democrats’ latest gambit for ending shutdown involves bills Republicans negotiated
Plan is to bring up spending bills next week that both chambers agreed to in conference last year

Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer, D-Md., have been bringing various spending bills to the floor to pressure Republicans to reopen the government. They plan to hold votes next week on bills House Republicans previously helped negotiate. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

House Democrats plan to ramp up the pressure on Republicans to reopen the government by holding votes next week on spending bills the GOP helped negotiate. 

The plan is to hold a vote on a package of six fiscal 2019 appropriations bills that were agreed to by House and Senate negotiators last year but never brought to the floor. 

‘I’m not sure what’s going on, but I object’: Confusion on House floor Thursday during attempted shutdown-ending vote
 

The House floor got chaotic on Thursday after the House passed a continuing resolution by voice vote — a request for yeas and nays — to fund the federal government through Feb. 28. The bill didn't include funds for a border wall, the issue holding up shutdown negotiations since GOP members want it, while Democrats don't.

What followed was approximately 13 minutes of parliamentary argument between Republican Minority Whip Steve Scalise and Democratic Majority Leader Steny Hoyer over the voting on the measure.

The queen of the online clapback imparts wisdom to her elders
Seasoned Democrats sure are trying, but some things can’t be taught

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez took some time on Thursday to tweet about teaching a class about tweeting. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

You may have noticed that freshman Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is Very Online — which isn’t uncommon behavior for us millennials.

At 29, the Bronx freshman is on the younger end of the cohort, which ranges from ages 23 to 38. (For a handy distinction, think of Old Millennials as internet savvy people who had to log into Facebook from their dorm rooms. Young Millennials have always tweeted from their smartphones.)

New Democrats hand D.C. statehood a milestone
‘Painstaking’ process may finally be paying off, says Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton

Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton, here with D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser in 2017, has been pushing for statehood since 1991. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

Since coming to the House in 1991, Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton has tried time and time again to make the District of Columbia the 51st state. It’s been an uphill climb.

In her first term, her statehood bill got zero co-sponsors. In the next Congress, it got 81 co-sponsors — but ultimately flopped, 153-277, when it came to the floor in 1993. 

Pennsylvania 12 special election: Is Marino’s seat at risk?
It’s a solid red seat, but nothing has come easy for the GOP the last two years

Rep. Tom Marino, R-Pa., is saying goodbye to the House for a job in the private sector. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)

North Carolina’s 9th District was the clear front-runner to host the first congressional election of 2019 until Republican Tom Marino announced his resignation from Pennsylvania’s 12th District. The seat has a significant GOP lean to it, but Republicans seem to find new ways to make special elections closer and more competitive than they should be.

The four-term congressman said Thursday he would be leaving Jan. 23 for a job in the private sector. Marino was re-elected last November with 66 percent and just began his fifth term. 

House floor erupts after GOP lawmaker shouts ‘Go back to Puerto Rico’
Spokesman says Rep. Jason Smith was referring to ‘vacationing’ Democrats who went to inspect hurricane recovery

House Minority Whip Steve Scalise calls for a roll call vote after Democrats held a voice vote on a continuing resolution that would reopen the partially shut down government.(C-SPAN)

The House floor erupted Thursday shortly before Congress adjourned for the week when Republican Rep. Jason Smith yelled a potentially racially charged remark across the aisle as Democratic Rep. Tony Cárdenas was at the podium.

“Go back to Puerto Rico!” the Missouri congressman shouted, punctuating a stream of Republican whooping and hollering at the Democratic majority for initially rejecting their request to redo a vote on a continuing resolution to reopen shuttered agencies through Feb. 28.

Trump abruptly cancels military support for Pelosi overseas trip
Treasury delegation‘s Davos trip is also off

Rep. Eliot L. Engel, D-N.Y., chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, is seen on a bus originally scheduled to take a congressional delegation to their flight for an overseas trip. Minutes earlier, President Donald Trump had postponed all congressional trips, so Engel was subsequently dropped at the Rayburn Building. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

Updated 7:33 p.m. | In apparent retaliation to Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s plea that President Donald Trump delay his State of the Union address due to the government shutdown, Trump has canceled all military support for a previously unannounced congressional delegation trip the speaker was scheduled to take.

“Due to the Shutdown, I am sorry to inform you that your trip to Brussels, Egypt, and Afghanistan has been postponed. We will reschedule this seven-day excursion when the Shutdown is over,” Trump wrote in a letter to Pelosi.

Rep. Steve King challenger raises $100,000 in 10 days
State Sen. Randy Feenstra has said King lacks influence because ‘sideshows and distractions’

Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa, could face a well-funded primary challenger. (CQ Roll Call file photo)

As Rep. Steve King has faced calls for his censure and resignation by congressional colleagues this week, his primary challenger has been raking in donations.

Conservative state Sen. Randy Feenstra has raised $100,000 in the 10 days since he formed his congressional campaign committee, his campaign announced in a news release. 

Trump unveils his ’Ric Flair doctrine’ — after another border wall pitch
Buried in president's hawkish remarks was assessment Iranian leaders ‘want to talk’

President Donald Trump delivers in the East Room of the White House in September. He was in a hawkish mood while talking U.S. military missiles at the Pentagon on Thursday. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)

ANALYSIS | President Donald Trump — in a Pentagon address that included digs at Democrats and a border wall pitch — warned potential foes like Iran that the United States is a “good player,” but could quickly become the dirtiest player in the game if provoked.

The commander in chief arrived at the Pentagon Thursday morning for remarks, ostensibly about a Defense Department review of the country’s missile defense arsenal and his administration’s plan to expand and upgrade it. But just like Monday while addressing farmers at a conference in New Orleans, the president spent about half his remarks bashing congressional Democrats, describing a bleak situation at the U.S.-Mexico border and lobbying for a “steel” border barrier.

House voice vote to end government shutdown sows confusion, anger and eventually reconciliation

Rep. G. K. Butterfield, D-N.C., right, and House Majority Whip James Clyburn, D-S.C., right, was presiding over the chamber when the back and forth over the voice vote on ending the shutdown went down.  (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

It seemed simple: The House on Thursday passed a continuing resolution that would reopen nine Cabinet departments through Feb. 28 on a voice vote, a result that devolved into partisan sparring on the floor as Republicans sought to vacate the vote and Democrats said, in effect, too bad. By the end, both sides hugged it out, vacated the initial vote, voted by voice again, and postponed a roll call vote until Wednesday. 

It all started with passage, via voice vote on the resolution. Then the gavel came down, ending the vote. 

Pelosi says House will skip recess while government is shut down
Speaker says House will work on legislation to fund agencies like bills that passed earlier in the Senate

Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi said Thursday that Congress will skip its recess next week to take up bills “that the Republicans themselves passed in the Senate but now won’t take up.” (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

Speaker Nancy Pelosi said Thursday that the House will be in session next week instead of taking a recess week and continue to work on legislation to end the 26-day government shutdown.

“We have canceled our district work period next week to stay here to work on legislation to open up government, to continue our ongoing drumbeat of bills to open up government, starting with bills that the Republicans themselves passed in the Senate but now won’t take up,” Pelosi said. “But we’ll go to the next step next week on that.”

Elizabeth Warren wants big banks to give details of assistance to furloughed federal workers as shutdown continues
Democratic senator highlights more transparency from credit unions about help for the workers who are not being paid

Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., wants details of what large banks are doing to help customers affected by the partial government shutdown. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Sen. Elizabeth Warren wants specifics from big banks about what they are doing to help federal workers who haven’t received paychecks due to the partial government shutdown.

The Massachusetts Democrat, who is often an adversary of large financial institutions, actually praised some of them for public statements expressing support for the furloughed federal employees (and those required to report to work without pay).

 ‘My wife is worried I’ll end up on the ‘Hoarders’ show’: Grijalva’s art-filled Arizona cocoon
Office Space — go inside members' offices to get a closer look at who they are

“When one doesn’t have the talent, one appreciates it,” Rep. Raúl M. Grijalva said of his love of art and photography. The walls of his Longworth office are adorned with dozens of paintings, photos and masks representing various cultures and icons in Arizona’s 3rd District.