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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‘I’ll be here a lot,’ Trump says of Pennsylvania in safe GOP district
President weighs in on special election after Biden kicks off campaign in Keystone State

Supporters of President Donald Trump, pose for a picture while waiting to enter his rally at the Williamsport Regional Airport in Montoursville, Pa., on Monday. (Photo By Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

MONTOURSVILLE, Pa. — Air Force One landed here Monday evening ahead of a special House election as AC/DC’s “Thunderstruck” blared inside an airport hangar. Minutes later, with Air Force One parked in front of small tree-lined peaks, President Donald Trump issued a thunderous endorsement of a GOP House candidate and attack on Democrats.

And repeatedly, the friendly audience showered Trump with chants of “four more years!” And during one rare quiet moment, a man shouted, “We love you, Trump!” Minutes later, the entire crowd, which did not quite fill the hangar, shouted in unison, “We love Trump!”

Republican group launches PAC to increase GOP diversity
Catalyst PAC will promote non-white, LGBTQ, or religious or ethnic minority candidates

Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, R-Wash., attended a kickoff event for a new PAC seeking to support more diverse Republican candidates. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Republicans seeking to increase their party’s diversity in Congress and challenge a media portrayal of the conservative movement as “bigoted” launched a PAC on Monday to support candidates “as diverse as our nation.”

That’s the goal that Catalyst PAC describes on a website soliciting contributions to support candidates who “look a little different from what’s thought of as the ‘traditional’ Republican.”

Senators ask Trump administration why the ‘American Taliban’ is getting out of prison early
John Walker Lindh has been on track for release on Thursday

Senate Appropriations Chairman Richard C. Shelby wants to know why the “American Taliban” is in line for early release. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

A bipartisan team of senators is asking the Trump administration why the convicted terrorist who became known as the “American Taliban” is about to get early release from federal prison.

And the questions are coming in part from the chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee.

A Don McGahn no-show could be turning point on impeachment
Members of leadership starting to speak more directly of proceedings

Rep. David Cicilline, D-R.I., is ready to start impeachment proceedings if the White House continues to block testimony of former aides like Don McGahn. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

Rep. David Cicilline, a member of House Democratic leadership who serves on the Judiciary Committee, said that if former White House counsel Don McGahn does not testify Tuesday, the panel should open an impeachment inquiry against President Donald Trump.

And the Rhode Island Democrat, who cited “a pattern from the White House to impede our investigation,” is not alone in the leadership ranks. 

Disaster bill negotiators drop divisive harbor fund provision
Senate and House negotiators hoping for a deal before Memorial Day recess

Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y., says it would be an “awful conclusion” if Congress fails to pass a disaster relief bill before Memorial Day. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Updated 10:06 p.m. | Senate Appropriations Chairman Richard C. Shelby said he has pulled his divisive proposed change in the Harbor Maintenance Fund from consideration in the long-stalled disaster and border supplemental package after meeting with President Donald Trump.

The Alabama Republican also said Trump appeared to support the level of border funding in the package, and White House officials indicated they see the emergency legislation becoming law soon.

Judge sides with Congress in subpoena fight over Trump records

House Oversight and Reform Chairman Elijah E. Cummings, D-Md., right, seen here with ranking member Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, has subpoenaed the financial records of President Donald Trump, and got a favorable court ruling to do so on Monday. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

A federal district court judge in Washington sided Monday with Congress in President Donald Trump’s lawsuit to block lawmakers from getting eight years of his financial records from an accounting firm.

The 41-page ruling from U.S. District Court Judge Amit Mehta in favor of the House Oversight and Reform Committee was not unexpected, and his ruling describes sweeping congressional power to subpoena records for what appears on its face to be a valid legislative purpose.

McConnell introduces bill making the legal smoking age 21
“Youth vaping is a public health crisis,” Kentucky Republican says

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., introduced legislation Monday that would raise the minimum age to buy tobacco to 21. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell on Monday introduced a bill to raise the federal age for purchasing tobacco products, including e-cigarettes, to 21, increasing the chances that Congress will clear a significant smoking-related bill for the first time since a major tobacco control law was enacted a decade ago.

The bill comes amid growing concerns about the youth use of e-cigarettes, which reached record levels in 2018. That marked a troubling reversal of declines in smoking traditional cigarettes.

White House gets back-up from DOJ on Don McGahn testimony stance

The White House says former White House counsel Don McGahn does not have to testify, according to an internal DOJ memo. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

President Donald Trump Monday ordered former White House Counsel Don McGahn to not testify at a House Judiciary Committee hearing scheduled for Tuesday, with the administration saying the former adviser has “absolute immunity” and is not legally required to comply with a congressional subpoena.

The move was not unexpected as part of Trump’s “oppose-all-the-subpoenas” stance since the conclusion of the special counsel investigation last month. But it further escalates the separation-of-powers showdown between the Trump administration and congressional oversight.

In Pennsylvania’s Trump country, relief that he’s restoring ‘the old ways’
President rallies supporters amid trade war, home-state son Biden’s entrance

Supporters of President Donald Trump, pose for a picture while waiting to enter his rally at the Williamsport Regional Airport in Montoursville, Pa., on Monday. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

WILLIAMSPORT, Pa. — The blue and red banners flapped in a late-spring morning breeze along U.S. Highway 15 here, greeting passersby with a simple but unmistakable message: “President Trump is coming.” It is a message Pennsylvanians are likely to see a lot of before the 2020 election, as the Keystone State becomes one of the campaign’s centers of gravity. 

Hours before Air Force One touched down at Williamsport International Airport in neighboring Montoursville, Terri Bruner of Geneva, Ohio, had set up her traveling roadside merchandise stand at the Ridgemont Motel. She was peddling the usual “Make America Great Again” gear, complete with one T-shirt depicting a Trump supporter urinating on the CNN logo and an assortment of pink Trump gear ostensibly aimed at women.

Space Force gets cautious OK in House defense spending bill
The House 2020 defense spending bill would provide $15 million, a fraction of Trump’s $72.5 million request

Demonstrators hold up signs protesting a possible Space Force before a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on April 11, 2019, in Washington, DC. The House Defense Appropriations subcommittee provided $15 million in its defense spending bill, much lower than the administration’s request for $72.5 million. (Photo by Alex Wroblewski/Getty Images)

The House Defense Appropriations Subcommittee has signaled that it will entertain, but constrain, President Donald Trump’s plans to create a new military service that focuses exclusively on space.

The House’s version of the fiscal 2020 defense spending bill would provide $15 million for Space Force operations and maintenance, almost $57.5 million lower than the administration’s $72.5 million request, according to the committee report released Monday.

Taliban money and fighter jets at issue in Pentagon's $690 billion bill
CQ Budget Podcast, Episode 110

U.S. Marine Corps F-35 Lightning II Joint Strike Fighters from Naval Air Station Pensacola, Fla. fly off the coast of Northwest Fla. May 15, 2013, off the coast of Northwest Florida. (U.S. Air Force photo by Master Sgt. Donald R. Allen/Released)

House appropriators this week will take up the biggest of the 12 annual spending bills, the $690 billion Pentagon measure that includes some prickly issues such as funding for Taliban expenses for peace talks with the U.S. and money to give the Pentagon more F-35 fighter jets than it requested, says CQ Roll Call's senior defense reporter John M. Donnelly. He lays out what is likely to happen to the measure that assumes higher spending levels for fiscal 2020.

After backing impeachment, Rep. Amash gets pro-Trump primary challenger
State lawmaker says five-term Amash is ‘out of touch’ with voters

Rep. Justin Amash, R-Mich., walks up the House steps for a vote in the Capitol on Thursday, May 9, 2019. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

A Michigan state lawmaker has announced plans to challenge Rep. Justin Amash in the Republican primary for the state’s 3rd District after the congressman broke with his party on impeaching President Donald Trump.

State Rep. Jim Lower, who describes himself on his campaign website as a “Pro-Trump” Republican, said in a statement that Amash “must be replaced, and I am going to do it.”

The tax man may be coming for Uber and Lyft drivers
The IRS believes many Uber and Lyft drivers cheat on their taxes, and it wants Congress to help crack down

Demonstrators in San Francisco on May 8 hold signs in support of Uber and Lyft drivers protesting low wages. (Getty Images)

Between the lackluster initial public offerings and struggles to turn a profit, ride-sharing services such as Uber and Lyft aren’t short of problems. Now, Congress is threatening to make it more difficult for them to retain drivers who are already outraged over low wages.

The IRS believes many Uber and Lyft drivers are cheating on their taxes, and Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., is pushing legislation that would dramatically reduce the income threshold above which gig economy companies that rely on contractors must report to the IRS.

Where all 24 House Judiciary Democrats stand on impeachment
Majority says that may eventually need to launch an impeachment inquiry to get information

From left, Reps. Joe Neguse, Sylvia R. Garcia, Mary Gay Scanlon, Lou Correa and Val B. Demings attend a House Judiciary markup May 8. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

More than half of the Democrats on the House Judiciary Committee say their panel may eventually need to open an impeachment inquiry against President Donald Trump if his administration’s efforts to stonewall congressional investigations continue.

CQ Roll Call talked to all but one of the 24 Democrats on the panel over the past two weeks about their views on impeachment in light of Trump, his administration and his allies deciding not to cooperate with their investigation into potential obstruction of justice, corruption and abuses of power. The Democrat not reached directly, California’s Eric Swalwell, a presidential candidate, weighed in on Twitter.

Eyeing hotter future, industry lays carbon tax groundwork
Business bigwigs head to the Hill this week to push climate legislation

Advocates for fighting global warming will get a boost from corporate firms advocating for a carbon tax. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Representatives from credit card firm Capital One, tech giant Microsoft, home-goods maker Johnson & Johnson and dozens of other companies are coming to Capitol Hill this week to do something unusual: Call for a new tax.

Officials from more than 75 companies will press Congress on Wednesday to pass climate legislation, including a “meaningful” national price on carbon emissions, according to Ceres, a sustainable investment group behind the effort.