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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Campus notebook: Which impeachment lawyer makes more?
PCP arrest by the Capitol complex and Sen. David Perdue buys a lot of CBS, FedEx and Urban Outfitters stock

Daniel Goldman, majority counsel for the House Intelligence Committee, and Steve Castor, minority counsel, prepare to testify during the House Judiciary Committee’s impeachment inquiry. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

Two lawyers with prominent roles in the House impeachment inquiry — Stephen Castor, the Republican general counsel for the Oversight Committee, and Daniel Goldman, a senior advisor for the Intelligence Committee Democrats — testified alongside one another Monday. One difference in the two, besides the parties they represent on their respective panels, is their salaries.

According to payroll records from August, Castor makes an annual salary of $165,000—that’s $3,000 more than Goldman makes.

Justices decide to wade into separation-of-powers showdown
The issue lands there just as the House prepares a floor vote on articles of impeachment

The U.S. Supreme Court agreed Friday to weigh in on a separation-of-powers showdown between Congress and Trump over whether Congress can obtain his financial and tax records. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

The Supreme Court on Friday stepped into the political and legal fight over whether Congress can obtain President Donald Trump’s financial and tax records.

The justices agreed to decide two cases in the first separation-of-powers showdown between Congress and Trump to reach the high court. The issue lands there just as the House prepares a floor vote on articles of impeachment.

Curbing unexpected medical bills has bipartisan backing in Congress
CQ on Congress, Ep. 179

UNITED STATES - SEPTEMBER 18: The U.S. Capitol building as seen from the Senate side on Wednesday, Sept. 18, 2019. (Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

Many Americans have been to the hospital in an emergency, or for a procedure, only to get a huge bill after because a doctor treating them doesn’t take their insurance. Republicans and Democrats have reached agreement on legislation to ban so-called surprise billing. CQ Roll Call reporter Mary Ellen McIntire joins the podcast to explain the likely outcome of this bill. Claire McAndrew, Director of Campaigns and Partnerships at FamiliesUSA, which advocates for health care consumers, also joins the show.

‘Yule’ get fewer calories with ‘impeachment lite’ — Congressional Hits and Misses
Week of Dec. 9, 2019

Rep. Doug Collins speaks during the House Judiciary Committee markup of the articles of impeachment against President Donald Trump on Thursday. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

Lawmakers got in the yuletide spirit this week while the House Judiciary Committee debated articles of impeachment, which President Donald Trump dubbed “impeachment lite.”

“They’re getting ready to vote for their Christmas present,” Rep. Doug Collins said of House Democrats’ impeachment push. All that plus giant imitation sugar packets, cellphone interruptions and December’s obligatory “winter is coming” reference.

Analysis: Impeachment’s no ‘game changer’ and other pet peeves
News flash: Two things can be simultaneously true without being mutually exclusive

Rep. Doug Collins, R-Ga., ranking member on the House Judiciary Committee, speaks during Thursday’s markup of the articles of impeachment against President Donald J. Trump. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

After weeks of public hearings, I’m ready to take a stand on impeachment. Well, not quite. Actually, there are more than a few pieces of the impeachment coverage, arguments, and narrative that are driving me crazy. And writing a few hundred words seems like a semi-healthy way to attempt to set the record straight.

Impeachment is not a game-changer until proven otherwise. I’m skeptical that impeachment will fundamentally alter the electoral landscape, in part, because it has not dramatically swayed voters’ opinions of the president so far. According to Friday’s RealClearPolitics average, President Donald Trump’s job approval rating was 44 percent compared to 54 percent disapprove. On Sept. 24, when Speaker Nancy Pelosi announced the formal impeachment inquiry, it was 45 percent approve and 52 percent disapprove. Maybe something can be historic and politically insignificant at the same time.

Trump appears to back short Senate impeachment trial
‘I’ll do whatever they want to do,’ POTUS says when asked of McConnell’s desire for quick trial

Vote tally sheets sit at the clerk's table following the House Judiciary Committee's approval of articles of impeachment against President Donald Trump on Friday. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

On the day the House Judiciary Committee approved impeachment articles against him, President Donald Trump claimed it is strengthening him politically. And with those articles headed to the House floor next week he appears warming to a quick election-year Senate trial.

In brief but animated remarks, the president defiantly declared of the shape and length of an expected Senate trial: “I’ll do whatever I want.”

War on Christmas (decorations) comes to Capitol Hill
The 'Cold War' is heating up

Rep. Ed Perlmutter, D-Colo., poses with the inflatable snowman outside his office on the second floor of the Longworth Senate Office Building on Wednesday, Dec. 11, 2019. A friendly holiday decorations rivalry with his hallway neighbor Rep. Jason Crow, D-Colo. has evolved into a floor-wide contest. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

Rep. Val Demings was overheard this week telling a reporter she felt “pressure” to step up her office’s holiday decorations after fellow Florida Rep.  Charlie Crist displayed a quintessential light-up palm tree and flamingo outside his.

The 7.5-foot inflatable holiday Mickey Mouse (she represents the Orlando area, home to Disney World) that guards her door declined to comment on the matter — perhaps because he heard about the unfortunate fate of a nearby air-filled brethren.

Photos of the Week
The week of Dec. 13 as captured by Roll Call’s photojournalists

Top row from left, Reps. Steve Chabot, R-Ohio, Louie Gohmert, R-Texas, and Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, are seen as the House Judiciary Committee hears the House Intelligence Committee’s presentation on the impeachment inquiry of President Donald Trump on Monday. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

Try again: Lofgren rejects House Clerk’s eyebrow-raising choice
2018 college graduate recommended to lead staff after Rep. Sean Duffy resignation

House Administration Chairwoman Zoe Lofgren, D-Calif., rejected a request by House Clerk Cheryl L. Johnson to hire a 2018 college graduate as chief of staff for the vacant office of Wisconsin’s 7th Congressional District. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Rep. Sean Duffy left Congress months ago, but his office remains without a chief after a key lawmaker rejected an attempt to install a recent college graduate with no legislative experience and who is the daughter of a House official.

Duffy’s last chief of staff, Pete Meachum, departed the post on Dec. 6.

Judiciary Committee sends Trump impeachment articles to the House floor
After three days of contentious debate, the panel voted along party lines to recommend impeachment

Rep Pramila Jayapal, D-Wash. holds up a copy of the Constitution while voting for one of the impeachment articles against President Donald Trump on Friday. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

The House came one step closer to impeaching President Donald Trump after the Judiciary Committee on Friday morning approved charges that Trump obstructed Congress and abused his power.

Next week, for the first time in more than two decades, and only the third time in U.S. history, the full House will consider articles of impeachment against a sitting president.

Impeachment news roundup: Dec. 13
Judiciary Committee sends articles of impeachment to the House, White House condemns ‘desperate charade’

House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler prepares to speak to the media after the committee passed two articles of impeachment against President Donald Trump on Friday. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

After a 14-hour marathon on Thursday, the House Judiciary Committee took less than 10 minutes to approve the two articles of impeachment against President Donald Trump on Friday.

Both articles were approved on 23-17 party-line votes.

The real war on Christmas: Who unplugged Perlmutter’s snowman?
Frosty the deadman

Reps. Ed Perlmutter and Mike Gallagher argue over who has the best Christmas decorations in their Longworth hallway on Wednesday, Dec. 11, 2019. One day later, the friendly competition took a frosty turn. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

Thornberry calls for US action to deter Iran aggression
Attacks on Western targets in Mideast likely, says House Armed Services’ top Republican

House Armed Services ranking member Mac Thornberry says Iranian rulers will “lash out and try to find an external enemy” after a month of demonstrations in which hundreds of Iranians are reported to have died. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

Iran is likely to attack more Western targets in the Middle East soon, and the United States will need to respond, Mac Thornberry of Texas, the top Republican on the House Armed Services Committee, said in an interview Thursday.

“I expect Iran will take further provocative actions in the coming weeks,” Thornberry said on a C-SPAN “Newsmakers” program set to air Friday night.

Gaetz's 2008 DUI resurfaces during impeachment debate

Rep. Matt Gaetz speaks Thursday during a House Judiciary Committee markup of the articles of impeachment against President Donald Trump. (Caroline Brehman/CQ Roll Call)

Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla., cited a New Yorker profile of Hunter Biden during amendment debate Thursday during the House Judiciary Committee’s markup on articles of impeachment. The profile alleged crack cocaine use by Hunter Biden, which Gaetz read out loud to the panel.

Rep. Hank Johnson, D-Ga., was quick to respond, saying, “The pot calling the kettle black is not something we should do.” The idiom was a nod to Gaetz’s 2008 arrest for driving under the influence.

Ivanka gets President Trump to make the pitch for paid leave
Is the president's support enough to finally get a deal?

President Donald Trump attended a paid parental leave summit Thursday organized by his daughter Ivanka Trump. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

“I had a very busy time and a very busy day, and my daughter said, ‘You will be here,’ so that was the end of that busy day,” President Donald Trump told a White House audience Thursday morning during a discussion on paid parental time off.

Ivanka Trump, first daughter and presidential adviser, gathered Capitol Hill lawmakers, governors, a cabinet secretary — and, yes, the president — at the White House in an attempt to generate momentum for paid family leave.