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.

Get breaking news alerts and more from Roll Call on your iPhone or your Android.

After Coons Demonstrates Comity, Pompeo Avoids Dubious Distinction
Old Senate traditions on display as Delaware Democrat pairs with Georgia Republican

Senate Foreign Relations Chairman Bob Corker, R-Tenn., left, and ranking member Bob Menendez, D-N.J., confer Monday before a tense committee markup on the nomination of Mike Pompeo to be secretary of State. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

CIA Director Mike Pompeo narrowly avoided historical ignominy on Monday when the Foreign Relations Committee approved his nomination to be secretary of State.

It took more steps to advance President Donald Trump’s nominee than anyone might have anticipated going into the meeting, including what in the modern Senate was a magnanimous gesture from Democratic Sen. Chris Coons of Delaware.

GOP Rep. Lamborn Does Not Qualify for Primary Ballot, State Court Rules
Lamborn was being challenged in the GOP primary

Rep.Doug Lamborn, R-CO., may not be able to run for re-election. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Updated 7:27 p.m. | The Colorado Supreme Court ruled Monday that GOP Rep. Doug Lamborn has not qualified for the GOP primary ballot.

The court ruled Lamborn violated state rules when collecting the 1,000 GOP signatures needed to qualify for the primary ballot. State law says the signature collectors must be Colorado residents, and the state Supreme Court determined one of the collectors was not, reversing a lower court decision.

Rand Paul Flips, Will Support Mike Pompeo Nomination

Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., attends a Senate Foreign Relations committee markup in Dirksen Building on the nomination of Mike Pompeo to be secretary of state on April 23, 2018. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

Sen. Rand Paul, a member of the Foreign Relations Committee, said in a series of tweets sent just before the panel was scheduled to gavel into session, that he would support the nomination of CIA Director Mike Pompeo to be Secretary of State.

“Having received assurances from President Trump and Director Pompeo that he agrees with the President on these important issues, I have decided to support his nomination to be our next Secretary of State,” Paul said

Indivisible Combatting Sexual Harassment at Candidate Level
Resistance group also asking candidates to commit to diversity

Indivisible is in the process of selecting its second round of endorsements. (Bill Clark/ CQ Roll Call file photo)

A group founded by former Capitol Hill staffers wants to increase pressure on congressional offices to build harassment-free environments even before members are members.

When the progressive group Indivisible Project questions candidates to see how well they align with their resistance agenda, they also ask, “If elected, will you make every effort to create work spaces for your staff that are safe and free from all forms of sexual harassment?”

Nathan’s (Mostly) Political One-Liners: BonChon, Accessible Campaigns, and Let’s Remember Some Candidates
What’s running through my head on Monday, April 23

Popcorn chicken is no longer on the menu at Bonchon, Gonzales laments. (Courtesy Enoch T./Yelp!)

“Accessible” Attacks: Three Democratic candidates recently compared and contrasted their accessibility to the incumbents they are challenging, but neither Ken Harbaugh (OH-07) nor Dean Phillips (MN-03) nor Elissa Slotkin (MI-08) appear to have a working phone number on their campaign websites.

Bonchon Bust: The previously infallible Korean fried chicken establishment made a critical mistake by removing popcorn chicken from the menu and thinking kids wouldn’t notice that they now offer popcorn shrimp instead.

Texas Attorney General Allows Special Election for Farenthold’s Seat
Governor said it was related to Hurricane Harvey

Rep. Blake Farenthold, R-Texas. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton gave permission to Gov. Greg Abbott to hold a special election to fill former Rep. Blake Farenthold’s seat.

Paxton issued a non-binding opinion that said a court would agree to set aside election laws to allow for the governor to suspend certain laws if they interfere with disaster recovery, according to the Texas Tribune.

Dentists on the March to Congress
November could see two more join the cavity-fighting caucus

Rep. Paul Gosar, R-Ariz., walks up the House steps for a vote in the Capitol in February. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Congress is probably as popular as going to the dentist, but a handful of dentists are looking to make their way to Congress.

Of course, the first step to growing the number of dentists on the Hill is re-electing the current ones. Considering they represent heavily Republican districts, their prospects are good, even though the political winds might be blowing against them.

Democrats’ Poll Puts Grimm Up by Double Digits Over Donovan
Dems ‘desperate’ for Grimm because he has ‘zero shot of winning in November,’ incumbent says

Rep. Dan Donovan, R-N.Y., faces a primary challenge from his predecessor Michael Grimm. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)

A new Democratic poll of voters in the Republican primary for Rep. Dan Donovan’s seat shows challenger Michael Grimm up by 10 points, but the incumbent says that’s what they’d like you to believe.

Grimm led Donovan, 49 percent to 39 percent, among GOP voters in New York’s 11th District in the poll released by the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, the House Democrats’ political arm, which hopes to flip the seat blue in November.

Senators Skeptical of Kim’s Nuke Pledge As Trump Prepares for Summit
North Korean leader says he’s putting a freeze on nuclear and medium- and long-range missile testing

Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., threw cold water on the notion President Donald Trump’s planned meeting with North Korea President Kim Jong Un would lead to serious concessions from the North. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Senators from both parties offered measured applause to President Donald Trump over the weekend after North Korea announced it would suspend nuclear and medium- and long-range missile tests ahead of Trump’s planned summit with its leader, Kim Jong Un.

The North’s promises to stem its nuclear weapons program “show that the president has put Kim Jong Un on the wrong foot for the first time,” Sen. Tom Cotton said Sunday on CBS's “Face the Nation.”

Former Ryan Staffer Bryan Steil To Run for Former Boss’ Seat
Soothes GOP anxiety about fielding a competitive candidate for retiring House speaker’s seat

Bryan Steil poses for a photo with a supporter after making his announcement on Sunday. (Bryan Steil for Wisconsin via Facebook)

A former staffer to House Speaker Paul D. Ryan announced he would run for his former boss’ seat in Wisconsin’s 1st District.

Bryan Steil, who serves as a regent for the University of Wisconsin, said he would run as a “problem solver,” the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported.

Khanna Writing Internet Bill of Rights
Comes after news that Facebook allowed political consulting firm to harvest users’ data

Rep. Ro Khanna, D-Calif., has been tapped to write an “Internet Bill of Rights” by Democratic leadership. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)

California Rep. Ro Khanna has been tapped by Democratic House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi to write legislation defining Internet users’ rights to their data.

In an interview with the San Jose Mercury News, Khanna said he was frustrated after Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s hearings on Capitol Hill showed many members did not understand basic concepts about the internet.

Pompeo Confirmation Debate Highlights Another Week of Senate Nomination Feuds
Rules and Administration panel also debating changes to nomination floor procedures

CIA Director Mike Pompeo, left, President Donald Trump’s nominee for secretary of State, arrives for his confirmation hearing April 12 accompanied by Senate Foreign Relations Chairman Bob Corker. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

CIA Director Mike Pompeo seems all but assured to be confirmed as secretary of State this week. The question is how much pain will senators go through along the way.

The way forward should become clear after the Senate Foreign Relations Committee convenes late Monday afternoon to formally vote on advancing Pompeo’s nomination — probably without a favorable review.

Election Year History Belies Ambitious Talk on Appropriations
Lawmakers’ spending goals could run right into midterm hex

Senate Appropriations Chairman Richard C. Shelby says he’s aligned with the president in not wanting another massive omnibus spending bill. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

November might seem far away, but the midterm elections’ impact on spending bills is already on display, amplified by internal Republican jockeying for leadership positions in the House.

Election years tend to chill swift movement on appropriations bills — especially when there’s potential turnover in leadership of one or both chambers. That’s in part because lawmakers want to focus on campaigning and are back home more than usual, and party leaders tend to want to shield vulnerable members from tough votes.

Who Can Fill Paul Ryan’s Shoes in the House GOP?
He may be retiring from Congress, but that doesn’t mean he’s going away

Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., who kept a fractured party together and raised gobs of campaign cash, could be a tough act to follow. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

The brain drain from departing House Republicans with policy expertise had sparked worry among party insiders even before Speaker Paul D. Ryan announced his plans to retire.

Now, the extraordinary attrition, along with a potentially brutal upcoming midterm campaign, is enough to send the GOP into panic mode.

Fearing New Government Rules, Tech Titans Promise Security Vigilance
Lawmakers also may be likely to push for new legislation

Cutouts of Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg stand on the East Lawn of the Capitol ahead of his testimony on the Hill on April 10. The tech industry increasingly is questioning its security practices. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

SAN FRANCISCO — New European privacy rules, the spotlight on Facebook’s role in the 2016 elections, and the potential that cyberattacks targeting devices could harm consumers in their homes are propelling the tech industry to question its security practices and prompting top executives to promise to make amends.

During five days at the annual RSA Conference last week in San Francisco, top executives from the world’s largest technology companies, including Google, Microsoft, IBM, CISCO, McAfee and Symantec, said they took the scrutiny seriously and would not only step up to make their own devices and software safer but also work with thousands of vendors worldwide urging them to do the same.