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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Democrats line up three gun bills in early House Judiciary return
The bills could lob political pressure onto Senate Republicans to respond to recent mass shootings

House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y., and Democratic members of the House Judiciary Committee, speak to reporters about the testimony from former special counsel Robert Mueller on July 2019. Nadler announced the committee will consider three gun control bills when it convenes Sept. 4. (Caroline Brehman/CQ Roll Call file photo)

The House Judiciary Committee will consider three gun control bills when it convenes September 4, an early return from a summer break that could lob political pressure onto Senate Republicans to respond to recent mass shootings.

The committee announced Friday it will mark up a bill to outlaw large capacity magazines and other ammunition feeding devices, along with a bill that would prevent people who have been convicted of a misdemeanor hate crime from owning a weapon.

So much Iowa, so little time
Snapshots of a state that will be a big deal politically for a while

Democratic presidential candidate and South Bend, Indiana, mayor Pete Buttigieg talks with attendees at a campaign event in Fairfield, Iowa, on Thursday. (Caroline Brehman/CQ Roll Call)

DES MOINES, Iowa — It is difficult for some people to accept that Iowa, a relatively small state in the middle of the country, has such an outsize role in determining the next president. But the Hawkeye State is more of a microcosm of U.S. politics and the country than it might first appear.

Iowa’s population of roughly 3 million people is tiny compared to mega-states like California, Texas and Florida, and it has a lack of racial diversity (it is about 87 percent white, according to the U.S. Census Bureau). But its voting patterns and political infrastructure make it a valuable barometer. 

Hinson on Republican Party and suburban women: ‘Words matter’

Ashley Hinson works the grill at the Iowa State Fair. (Thomas McKinless/CQ Roll Call).

Ashley Hinson thinks she can bridge the divide between the Republican Party and suburban women. “I am one,” she said.

Iowa culture shock: Moving to the Midwest to staff a presidential campaign
Getting to know Hy-Vee supermarkets and Kum & Go gas stations

Democratic presidential candidate former Rep. John Delaney speaks at the Iowa State Fair on Friday August 9, 2019. (Photo by Caroline Brehman/CQ Roll Call)

Why the bike lane planned for Louisiana Avenue remains stalled

Greg Billing, Executive Director of the Washington Area Bicyclist Association, rides the gap in protected bike lane that stretches along Louisiana Avenue to Union Station. But the Senate Sergeant at Arms has put the brakes on plans for this protected bike path. (Nathan Ouellette/CQ Roll Call)

Downtown Washington, D.C., has a network of bike lanes, but there is there is a glaring gap at Louisiana Avenue near the Capitol.

Google under pressure from Congress, activists, shareholders
CQ on Congress, Episode 165

Google is under pressure to change its corporate culture. (Justin Sullivan/Getty Images file photo)

In the face of gridlock in Congress, investors, pension funds, and some states are pushing public companies to do more to diversify their boards, combat climate change, stamp out sexual harassment and give workers a voice.

CQ Roll Call's Laura Weiss talks about what happened at Google's annual shareholder meeting where board members were confronted with protests and calls for change. 

See the Iowa Caucuses early on Aug. 30!
Iowa Cubs baseball team renames itself after home-state political process

The Iowa Cubs will rename themselves the Iowa Caucuses for their Aug. 30 game against the Memphis Redbirds. (Thomas McKinless/CQ Roll Call)

DES MOINES, Iowa — If you just cannot wait until Iowa’s first-in-the-nation caucuses on Feb. 3, 2020, then consider visiting here on Aug. 30, when Minor League Baseball’s Iowa Cubs rebrand themselves for the night as, yes, the Iowa Caucuses. 

“I absolutely love it,” said David Redlawsk, chairman of the political science department at the University of Delaware and author of “Why Iowa?: How Caucuses and Sequential Elections Improve the Presidential Nominating Process.”

Rep. Rashida Tlaib rejects Netanyahu’s terms and forgoes trip to visit grandmother
A day after rejecting Muslim Democrats’ visit, Israel said it would allow Tlaib entry on ‘humanitarian’ grounds

Rep. Rashida Tlaib, D-Michigan, agreed not to voice support for BDS in order to secure a trip to her grandmother's village in the West Bank but then rejected the conditions of the trip. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

Rep. Rashida Tlaib will forgo a trip to see her aging grandmother in the West Bank after the Israeli government said it would allow a visit on “humanitarian” grounds.

In a reversal, Tlaib rejected the conditions laid out by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for the humanitarian visit, namely, that she not broadcast her support for boycotting Israel over its actions against Palestinians during her stay. 

White House readies $4 billion foreign aid cuts package
Proposal to eliminate unspent funds could ratchet up tensions with Congress over appropriations

President Donald Trump's administration could send Congress a proposal to cancel $4 billion in foreign aid funding in the coming days. (Zach Gibson/Getty Images)

The White House budget office on Thursday evening sent a proposal to trim unspent foreign assistance funds by “north of $4 billion” to the State Department for review, according to a senior administration official.

The final price tag of the rescissions package, which could also target unspent balances at the U.S. Agency for International Development, would likely change before being formally submitted to Capitol Hill, the official said.

The Iowa State Fair: Our hits, misses and lessons learned
Political Theater, Episode 88

Rep. Cindy Axne, D-Iowa, says a quick hello to her son, Gunnar, as he works at a corn dog booth at the Iowa State Fair on Monday August 12, 2019. (Caroline Brehman/CQ Roll Call)

DES MOINES, Iowa — For all its quaintness and fun, the Iowa State Fair does a pretty good job of approximating politics at the national level, be it questions about electability and charisma or trade and agricultural policy.

“The debate within the party that is happening right now, is happening right in front of me at the Iowa State Fair between these two people,” CQ Roll Call senior politics writer Bridget Bowman says, recounting a conversation between a couple after hearing South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg speak at the Des Moines Register Political Soapbox on Aug. 13. The couple, both of whom told Bridget they were impressed with Buttigieg, were torn between what was more important for a Democratic candidate: offering bold ideas or being more likely to beat President Donald Trump.

Trump appointees routinely bullied State Department staffers, IG reports
Numerous employees subjected to ‘disrespectful,’ ‘hostile’ and ‘inappropriate’ treatment

Two top officials at the State Department engaged in "generally unprofessional behavior" toward staffers, the inspector general's report found. (Mark Wilson/Getty Images file photo)

A long-awaited investigation by the State Department’s inspector general concluded in a report released Thursday that multiple career employees were subjected to “disrespectful,” “hostile” and “inappropriate” treatment at the hands of political appointees.

The review specifically focused on allegations of political retaliation against career employees at the Bureau of International Organization Affairs, which leads and coordinates U.S. policy toward the United Nations. For over a year, House and Senate Democrats have pushed for a thorough investigation into whistleblower complaints and news reports that political appointees were vetting career employees at the State Department and retaliating against those they deemed insufficiently loyal to President Donald Trump and his administration’s conservative agenda.

Democrats go on defense in crucial heartland House race in Iowa
GOP has sights on Iowa’s 2nd District, which backed Trump in 2016

Former Iowa state Sen. Rita Hart is running for the Democratic nomination for Iowa’s 2nd District after Democratic incumbent Dave Loebsack opted against reelection. (Caroline Brehman/CQ Roll Call)

WHEATLAND, Iowa — Republicans sense an opportunity in the rolling corn and soybean fields in southeastern Iowa. But Democrats won’t be giving up their hold on this heartland district without a fight.

Republicans’ path to the House majority runs through the 31 Democrat-held districts that President Donald Trump won in 2016. And one of them, Iowa’s 2nd District, ranks among the GOP’s best pickup opportunities next year because it’s the only one of the 31 without an incumbent defending the seat.

Election officials want security money, flexible standards
After 2016 Russian intrusion, slow progress seen toward securing rolls and paper ballots

Voters line up at a temporary voting location in a trailer in the Arroyo Market Square shopping center in Las Vegas on the first day of early voting in Nevada in October of 2016. Louisiana and Connecticut officials requested more money and clear standards from the federal government before voters head to the polls in 2020. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

State officials from Louisiana and Connecticut on Thursday asked for more money and clear standards from the federal government to help secure voting systems before the 2020 elections.

But the officials, Louisiana Secretary of State Kyle Ardoin and Connecticut Secretary of State Denise Merrill, stressed the differences between their election systems and asked for leeway from the federal government in deciding how to spend any future funding.

Democrats seek info on CFPB official’s ties to Christian group
Paul Watkins spent three years at the conservative Alliance Defending Freedom

Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren and other Democrats want documents from the CFPB on the hiring of Paul Watkins as director of the Office of Innovation. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

A group of Democrats, including presidential hopeful Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, are continuing to pressure the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau over a senior official’s ties to a conservative Christian group.

In a letter sent Wednesday to CFPB Director Kathleen Kraninger, Warren — along with Reps. Raja Krishnamoorthi of Illinois, Ayanna S. Pressley of Massachusetts and Katie Porter of California — demanded documents related to hiring Paul Watkins as director of the Office of Innovation, which has the power to grant fintech firms limited immunity from consumer protection laws.

Roy Blunt pitches Negro League coin idea
Congress has authorized more than 150 commemorative coins since 1892. Will this be the next?

Sen. Roy Blunt pushed for a new commemorative coin as he visited the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum in his home state of Missouri this week. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Sen. Roy Blunt wants a commemorative coin to honor Negro League Baseball when it celebrates its 100 year anniversary in 2020.

The Missouri Republican talked about his coin push during a tour of the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum in Kansas City, Missouri, this week.