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 Keep Raking In the Cash After Costly Primaries
Challengers in key races have on average twice as much money in the bank

California Democrat Katie Porter reported a significant boost in her cash on hand since the pre-primary reporting period in her race against GOP Rep. Mimi Walters. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)

The surge in Democratic candidates running for the House raised a critical question at the start of the cycle: Would crowded and costly primaries weaken the eventual nominees by draining their campaign cash? So far the answer appears to be “no.”

On average, Democrats in competitive races who faced expensive primaries have more than doubled their cash on hand from shortly before their primary elections to the end of the most recent fundraising quarter, campaign finance reports show. 

Trump Helsinki Remarks Expose GOP Divide on Foreign Policy
Security hawks and presidential loyalists split on significance of Finland summit

Sen. David Perdue, R-Ga., has defended President Donald Trump in the wake of the Helsinki summit. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

President Donald Trump’s much-maligned performance at Monday’s press conference with Russian President Vladimir Putin has deepened the Republican Party’s divide between traditional security hawks who want to stand up to Russia and conservatives who want to stay loyal to the president.

Democrats and several high-ranking Republicans condemned Trump’s comments in Helsinki, saying he accepted Putin’s assertions there was no Russian government-ordered campaign to swing the 2016 election in his favor, despite assessments to the contrary by the U.S. intelligence community.

Opinion: Even Tricky Dick Didn’t Bow and Scrape to Brezhnev
Trump’s Helsinki performance alone is worse than Watergate

When former President Richard Nixon met with a Russian leader after Watergate, he didn’t use the occasion to diss U.S. law enforcement, U.S. intelligence agencies or democracy, Walter Shapiro writes. (Courtesy the National Archives and Records Administration)

“Worse than Watergate” is an epithet that Donald Trump supporters hurl like a javelin at the FBI and the Robert Mueller investigation. But after looking back at the history, it is easy to conclude that Trump’s hellish Helsinki press conference was by itself worse than Watergate.

Like Trump with his shrill denials of any collusion with the Russians, Richard Nixon had publicly insisted that he had no knowledge of the 1972 Watergate break-in or the frenzied cover-up.

Opinion: Trump Should Heed Hard Lessons of Helsinki — Or Risk His Leadership
President’s unconventional style has its advantages, but not always

President Donald Trump dropped the “would” heard around the world when he appeared with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Helsinki on Monday. (Chris McGrath/Getty Images)

 

“President Trump must clarify his statements in Helsinki on our intelligence system and Putin. It is the most serious mistake of his presidency and must be corrected— immediately.”

Capitol Ink | Under The Trump Bus

Negotiations Over Sexual Harassment Bills Continue, but No Timetable Yet
Lawmakers report progress on reconciling House, Senate approaches

House Administration Chairman Gregg Harper, R-Miss., says he and his colleagues are making progress on reconciling sexual harassment legislation from the two chambers, but a time frame for enactment is unclear. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Even as lawmakers and staff work to reconcile legislation passed by the House and Senate to curb sexual harassment on Capitol Hill, a timeline for enacting the bills is unclear, months after they were fast-tracked for floor votes.

“We’re confident we are going to get there at some point. We’re not quite there,” House Administration Chairman Gregg Harper of Mississippi said.

Martha Roby Survives GOP Primary Runoff in Alabama
Onetime Trump critic defeated ex-Democrat Bobby Bright

Rep. Martha Roby, R-Ala., fended off a primary challenge from party-switching former Rep. Bobby Bright, whom she defeated in 2010. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Alabama Rep. Martha Roby survived her Republican primary runoff Tuesday night, rebounding from her sharp criticism of President Donald Trump in 2016 that sparked several challenges this year. 

With 47 percent of precincts reporting, Roby led with 67 percent of the vote to 33 percent for party-switching former Rep. Bobby Bright, when The Associated Press called the 2nd District race. 

Vulnerable Senate Democrats Have Another Thing to Worry About: Diversity on Their Staffs
Conference voluntarily released data on its diversity statistics for the second year

Vulnerable Democratic Sens. Joe Manchin III, left, and Jon Tester have offices that are 93 percent and 92 percent white, an analysis of data released by Senate Democrats found. (Douglas Graham/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Democratic senators gearing up for competitive re-elections tend to have whiter staffs, according to a Roll Call analysis of data released by Senate Democrats.

Sen. Jon Tester of Montana, who finds himself in a race rated Tilts Democratic by Inside Elections with Nathan L. Gonzales, has a staff that is 93 percent white. West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin III, also in a Tilts Democratic contest, was just behind him, at 92 percent.

Linda Sánchez Formally Announces Bid for Democratic Caucus Chair
Crowley seems to endorse her campaign to succeed him

House Democratic Caucus Chairman Joseph Crowley, D-N.Y., and Vice Chairwoman Linda Sánchez, D-Calif., have been the 4th and 5th ranked Democratic leaders this congress. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

Rep. Linda Sánchez is running for Democratic Caucus chair, officially announcing her plans Tuesday in a Dear Colleague letter Tuesday to House Democrats.

The California Democrat currently is vice chairwoman of the caucus. She is looking to move up now that Democratic Caucus Chairman Joseph Crowley of New York lost his primary and thus won’t be running for leadership again.

Alexa, What’s Going on in the House of Representatives?
Project would allow data queries from a smart speaker

The House chamber during a State of the Union address. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

What’s the quickest way to find out whether the House is in session? What committee hearings are scheduled? The name of a district’s congressional representative?

Soon, you might be able to ask Alexa.

In Reversal From 2016, Carlos Curbelo to Vote Against Anti-Carbon Tax Resolution
Scalise, author of resolution, admits goal is to put members on record

Rep. Carlos Curbelo, R-Fla., said he will oppose an anti-carbon tax resolution the House is scheduled to vote on Friday, changing his position from 2016. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)

House Republican leaders have scheduled a Thursday vote on an anti-carbon tax resolution in hopes of putting vulnerable Democrats on record in favor of the tax, but they’re going to put some of their own members in a tough spot too.

“I’m voting against that,” Florida GOP Rep. Carlos Curbelo, said of the resolution, which expresses the sense of Congress that “a carbon tax would be detrimental to American families and businesses, and is not in the best interest of the United States.”

House Farm Bill Author Stumps for SNAP Work Mandates as Reckoning Approaches
Senate version does not include new work requirements

Rep. Michael Conaway, R-Texas, says he is ready to go to conference on the farm bill soon. Work requirements for food stamps are shaping up to be a sticking point. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

The chairman of the House Agriculture Committee said Tuesday that public pressure in support of expanded work requirements for food stamp recipients could help move Senate negotiators on the 2018 farm bill toward accepting the House legislation.

“I need 70 percent of Democrats in this world who believe work requirements are a proper thing and 90 percent of Republicans in this world who believe work requirements are a proper thing to tell their senator, ‘Hey, that work requirement makes a lot of sense,’” Agriculture Chairman K. Michael Conaway told the audience at an Axios forum.

Opinion: The Grand Old Patsies
Few Republicans dare to criticize Trump over his behavior toward Putin

Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., was among the Republican lawmakers who did not criticize the president directly after the Helsinki summit. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Commenting after President Donald Trump’s performance in Helsinki, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell observed, “I have said a number of times, I’ll say it again: The Russians are not our friends. And I entirely believe the assessment of our intelligence community.”

Tennessee Republican Sen. Lamar Alexander said in a release, “There is no doubt that Russia interfered in our 2016 presidential election.”

In Mop-Up Mode, Trump Says He Accepts That Russia Meddled
President contends he has faith in U.S. intelligence agencies

President Donald Trump waves whilst playing a round of golf at Trump Turnberry Luxury Collection Resort during his first official visit to the United Kingdom on Sunday. (Leon Neal/Getty Images)

President Donald Trump on Tuesday said he accepts the U.S. intelligence community’s conclusion that Russia meddled in the 2016 American election, but it is unclear if his mea culpa will be enough to assuage frustrated lawmakers.

He told reporters he has “full faith” in America’s intel apparatus a day after he sided with Russian President Vladimir Putin’s denials that his country interfered in the 2016 election that Trump won in a major upset. The president also claimed he misspoke in Finland when he said he saw no reason to believe Moscow meddled in the election.

Lawmakers Across the Aisle Fight Canadian Newsprint Tariffs
Import tax on paper is hurting local news, members tell International Trade Commission

Republican Conference Chairwoman Cathy McMorris Rodgers, R-Wash., speaks with Roll Call in the Capitol on Wednesday, Jan. 10, 2018. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Nineteen members of Congress spoke Tuesday against the Commerce Department’s tariffs on Canadian newsprint, telling the U.S. International Trade Commission the import tax hurt local newspapers.

The bipartisan group of legislators asked the ITC to reverse tariffs the Commerce Department imposed on Canadian newsprint imports. Opponents of the tariffs say they would deal a major blow to local newspapers, which already struggle to stay afloat, by increasing the cost of newsprint.