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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March for Life activists get anti-abortion boost from Trump
President: ‘I will veto any legislation that weakens pro-life federal polices’

The March for LIfe draws abortion opponents to Washington each year. Above, Jennifer Crowther of Alexandria, and her daughters Natalie and Cassidy, rally at 2017’s event. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Lawmakers and anti-abortion advocates who gathered Friday for the nation’s largest annual anti-abortion rally say they are pivoting to a defensive strategy in Congress, with a focus on confirming conservative judges as legislation stalls.

Thousands of advocates gathered to protest the anniversary of Roe vs. Wade, the 1973 Supreme Court case that guaranteed a woman’s right to an abortion. The event featured a surprise appearance by Vice President Mike Pence with second lady Karen Pence, and a video message from President Donald Trump.

Trump: ‘Major announcement’ on border security coming Saturday
Focus to be on ‘humanitarian crisis’ and the government shutdown

President Donald Trump is tweeting that a “major announcement” on border security is coming on Saturday. Here he is  flanked from left by Sen. John Barrasso, R-Wyo., Sen. John Thune, R-S.D.., and Vice President Mike Pence . (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

President Donald Trump will make a “major announcement” Saturday about border security on what by then will be the 29th day of the partial government shutdown.

Three minutes after the White House call a “lid” Friday night and reporters headed for the gate, the president fired off a tweet, saying his remarks will focus on “the Humanitarian Crisis on our Southern Border, and the Shutdown, tomorrow afternoon at 3 P.M., live from the @WhiteHouse.”

D.C. gets its ‘voting card back’ (well, sort of)
Now that Democrats are in charge, the rules have changed

Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton hasn’t voted in the House chamber in a while. That changed this week. (Sarah Silbiger/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Now that Democrats are in charge again, Eleanor Holmes Norton got her “voting card back finally,” she joked.

It was a big week in Congress for the delegate from D.C. Her perennial bid to win statehood for the District pulled in a record number of co-sponsors. And for the first time in more than eight years, she got to vote in the House chamber.

Sen. Angus King begins radiation treatment for ‘residual prostate cancer’
This is Maine independent’s third cancer diagnosis overall

Sen. Angus King, I-Maine, is undergoing radiation treatments for “residual prostate cancer,” he announced Friday. (Sarah Silibiger/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Sen. Angus King is undergoing radiation treatments for residual prostate cancer, the Maine independent announced Friday.

This is King’s second bout with prostate cancer and his third diagnosis overall. He had skin cancer decades ago.

N.C. House speaker invites Trump to give State of the Union in Tar Heel state
Tim Moore sent a letter Friday offering his statehouse as a venue for the annual address

The North Carolina state legislature building is seen in Raleigh, N.C., on Monday, May 9, 2016. (Al Drago/CQ Roll Call file photo)

North Carolina House Speaker Tim Moore invited President Donald Trump to give his second State of the Union address at his state’s General Assembly chambers.

The Republican sent a letter to the president Friday after Speaker Nancy Pelosi suggested Wednesday that Trump postpone the address until after the shutdown is over. Moore is one of several lawmakers from across the U.S. who have offered up their places for the address.  

Democrats propose legal status for undocumented immigrant farmworkers
Legislation would protect workers from deportation, ease labor shortages, proponents say

Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., says the legislation “would ensure that hardworking immigrants don’t live in fear and that California’s agriculture industry has the workforce it needs to succeed.” (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Two California Democrats filed legislation Thursday that would give undocumented immigrant farmworkers and their families a path to legal resident status and possibly U.S. citizenship.

The legislation by Sen. Dianne Feinstein and Rep. Zoe Lofgren is designed to ease agricultural worker shortages and protect undocumented workers already in the United States from deportation. The bills come as the nation grapples with an extended partial government shutdown fueled by an impasse between President Donald Trump and congressional Democrats over funding for a border wall and broader differences over immigration policies.

Furloughed government contractors to Congress: ‘Pay us too’
Podcast, Episode 136

Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick, R-Pa., speaks during the National Air Traffic Controllers Association rally to “Stop the Shutdown” in front of the Capitol on Jan. 10. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

Chaos in the House, Hamilton and Senate Judiciary is all about Bill Barr’s grandson: Congressional Hits and Misses
Week of Jan. 14, 2019

Can you believe the President Trump fast food feast was just a few days ago? It's been a bit of a week, and as Majority Leader Steny Hoyer said after a chaotic floor vote on Thursday: “a very difficult week.”

Jeff Merkley requests FBI perjury investigation into Kirstjen Nielsen
At issue is testimony before Congress about family separations at border

Sen. Jeff Merkley is requesting that the FBI open a perjury investigation into Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen (Photo By Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

Sen. Jeff Merkley is requesting that the FBI open a perjury investigation into Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen, based on testimony she gave to Congress in December on family separations at the southern border.

Testifying before the House Judiciary Committee in December, Nielsen stated “I’m not a liar, we’ve never had a policy for family separation.”

Trump vs. Pelosi: 5 takeaways from their tit-for-tat as shutdown plods on
Nixing Afghanistan trip also was a direct blow to House Dems’ oversight plans

Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and President Donald Trump have continued trading barbs in recent days. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

Speaker Nancy Pelosi and President Donald Trump continued their high-stakes game of tit-for-tat Friday, even as the 28-day partial government shutdown plodded on with no signs of any restart of negotiations. 

White House aides scurried about Friday, initially declining to directly address a bombshell report that Trump directed former personal lawyer Michael Cohen to lie to Congress. (Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders later called the story “categorically false.”)

Trump and Kim Jong Un to meet in late February
White House announces meeting after president met privately with Pyongyang envoy

President Donald Trump answers a final question while departing a press conference following his historic meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un June 12, 2018 in Singapore. Trump described his meeting with Kim as "better than anyone could have expected." (Win McNamee/Getty Images)

President Donald Trump will meet for a second time with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in late February, the White House announced after a private meeting Friday with an envoy from Pyongyang.

“President Donald J. Trump met with Kim Yong Chol for an hour-and-a-half, to discuss denuclearization and a second summit, which will take place near the end of February. The president looks forward to meeting with Chairman Kim at a place to be announced at a later date,” White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said in a statement.

Photos of the week: Snow and a bus ride to nowhere as the shutdown continues
The week of Jan. 14 as captured by Roll Call’s photographers

Rep. Anthony Brown, D-Md., takes questions from constituents during his town hall meeting on the government shutdown at the Largo-Kettering Branch Library in the Washington suburbs on Saturday. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

The shutdown is approaching its fifth week, seemingly with no end in sight. Lawmakers are planning to be in session next week, despite the typical annual recess following the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday on Monday.

The past week saw several town halls on the shutdown, a good deal of snow for the capital area and escalating tensions between the president and the speaker. 

CFPB asks Congress for authority to sniff out predatory military lenders
Previous director piqued Democrats when he said the bureau doesn’t yet have legal standing to audit firms

Kathy Kraninger, the director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, submitted a legislative proposal to “clarify” the bureau’s authority to supervise compliance with a military lending law. (Alex Wong/Getty Images file photo)

The leader of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau is asking Congress to give the agency explicit authority to examine financial services companies for compliance with a law that caps how much a creditor can charge military servicemembers for loans.

In letters sent Thursday to Vice President Mike Pence and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, CFPB Director Kathy Kraninger submitted a legislative proposal to “clarify” the bureau’s authority to supervise compliance with a military lending law designed to protect servicemembers from certain lending practices that may be considered predatory.

Sen. Bob Casey not running for president
Casey announced his decision in a statement excoriating Republicans and Trump

Sen. Bob Casey, D-PA., is interviewed for TV in the Russell Rotunda on March 20, 2013. (Douglas Graham/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Sen. Bob Casey announced Friday that he won’t make a bid for the White House in 2020.

In a statement, the Pennsylvania Democrat said that 2020 is “not the time.”

Pelosi spokesman says White House leaked commercial travel plans to Afghanistan
Alternate plan was canceled after State Department warned against it

A bus is seen of the East Front of the Capitol after members of the House disembarked, after an overseas CODEL was postponed by President Trump on Thursday, January 17, 2019. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

The shutdown feud between Speaker Nancy Pelosi and President Donald Trump escalated Friday after the California Democrat’s office revealed it had made commercial travel arrangements to continue an Afghanistan trip the president tried to cancel — but the administration leaked their plans.

There was already a security risk with the speaker and her congressional delegation continuing the overseas troop visit after Trump announced Thursday where they’d be going. But the heightened threat from Trump leaking the commercial travel plans led the delegation to call off the trip for now, a Pelosi spokesman said.