Politics

17 of 2017’s Most Popular Stories

A look back at a contentious year on the Hill

President Donald Trump arrives with Sen. John Barrasso, R-Wyo., left, and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., for the Republican Senate Policy luncheon in the Capitol to discuss the GOP tax reform bill in November. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

With control of the White House and both chambers of Congress, Republicans had high hopes of pushing an ambitious agenda forward and making good on last year’s campaign promises.

But their long-held promise of repealing and replacing the 2010 health care law stalled in the Senate in one of the most dramatic moments of the year. Infighting derailed other agenda items that followed.

While they pushed through a tax overhaul bill in December, they lost what should have been a sure-thing Senate race in Alabama, reducing their majority there to a single vote.

As we prepare for a pivotal midterm election season, here is a look back at Roll Call’s most popular stories of this year:

1. He’s no Obama

Early in his presidency, President Barack Obama clung to his senior staff and thick briefing books. But his successor, Donald Trump, kicked off his tenure with what amounted to a charm offensive, bringing in CEOs and congressional leaders during his first two days of work.

Trump used the White House, its many ornate rooms and the power of the Oval Office, to chat up senior lawmakers from both parties, and to impress corporate executives and union workers.

[Trump’s White House Charm Offensive a Contrast to Solitary Obama]

2. Endgame for Mueller investigation

Even though Republicans controlled the White House and both chambers of Congress, their stated agenda items languished as speculation swirled about Robert Mueller’s investigation into the president’s ties to Russia.

As news broke that Mueller was prepared to issue indictments, we broke down who Mueller was likely coming for and possible outcomes.

[Analysis: 5 Possible Outcomes of First Mueller Indictments]

Watch: Nearly One Year Into His Presidency, How Congress Reacted to Trump

3. Damage control

In October, four soldiers were killed during an operation in Niger. Asked why he hadn’t made comments about the fallen soldiers, Trump criticized his predecessors, saying they had rarely contacted survivors of fallen service members.

But in the hours after Trump made those comments, the White House was hustling to learn from the Pentagon the identities and contact information for those families, internal Defense Department documents showed.

[Pentagon Document Contradicts Trump’s Gold Star Claims]

4. They had their reasons

While Republicans in the House voted overwhelmingly to pass their version of the tax overhaul bill, 13 holdouts had their own reasons — 12 are from districts in California, New Jersey and New York, where constituents would lose their federal tax deduction for state and local taxes under the bill. And 11 of the 13 are in districts that Democrats have targeted to take over next year.

We broke down their reasons that the 13 voted the way they did.

[Meet the Republicans Who Voted ‘No’ on the Tax Bill]

Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, arrives for the meeting for the unveiling of the Senate Republicans' new version of health care plan on Thursday, July 13, 2017. (Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)
Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, arrives for the meeting for the unveiling of the Senate Republicans' new version of health care plan in July. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)

5. Oversight

Senate Republicans got a bit of a PR black eye when it was discovered the health care bill they planned to get through under reconciliation rules would have exempted health care plans for members and Capitol Hill staff.

Republicans saw the double standard and proposed a fix to nullify the exemption, but it wasn’t needed when they weren’t able to get the votes needed to pass it, even under reconciliation.

[Why Republicans Exempted Their Own Insurance From Obamacare Rollback]

6. Wilson vs. the White House

The White House got into a feud with Florida Democratic Rep. Frederica Wilson after she criticized the president’s “insensitive” remarks to Army Sgt. La David Johnson’s widow after the soldier was killed in the Niger operation.

Trump at first accused Wilson of lying, before White House Chief of Staff John Kelly the next day called Wilson an “empty barrel” and accused her of lying about her role in securing funds for an FBI building in Florida.

When video emerged that disproved Kelly’s allegation, press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders countered the next day that “many people” had heard Wilson claiming off camera to be responsible for getting the funding.

[White House Shifts Stance on Kelly Criticism of Wilson]

Rep. Henry Cuellar, D-Texas, left, helps Rep. Bill Keating, D-Mass., take a selfie photo on the House floor before the official swearing in of the 115th Congress convenes on Tuesday, Jan. 3, 2017. (Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)
Rep. Henry Cuellar, D-Texas, left, helps Rep. Bill Keating, D-Mass., take a selfie photo on the House floor before the official swearing in of the 115th Congress convenes in January. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)

7. Photo op

Taking photos or recording video on the House floor had been a longstanding violation of House rules, but Republicans adopted a fine of up to $2,500 this year. The fine was a reaction to Democrats using cell phones to record video of themselves during their June 2016 sit-in on the House floor to protest inaction on gun violence.

A number of Democrats — and some Republicans — were seen snapping photos and shooting video during a quorum call before the start of the 115th Congress in January before House rules were technically in effect.

[Dems Take Photos on House Floor to Protest Proposed GOP Fine]

8. Name recognition

During the summer, rap-rocker Kid Rock teased a run for Senate in his home state of Michigan — coincidentally while he was dropping a new album and kicking off a tour — and supporters and the media saw it as the second coming of Trump.

But then Nathan Gonzales went and poured cold water on the whole thing by pointing out that Mr. Rock would likely be required to appear on any ballot by his given name Robert Ritchie.

[‘Kid Rock’ May Be Ineligible for Michigan Ballot]

Former FBI Director James Comey leaves a Senate Select Intelligence Committee hearing on Russian interference in the 2016 election on June 8, 2017. (Photo By Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)
Former FBI Director James Comey leaves a Senate Select Intelligence Committee hearing on Russian interference in the 2016 election in June. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

9. Comey clam-up

Days after Trump reportedly asked FBI Director James Comey to drop the bureau’s investigation of National Security Adviser Michael Flynn and Flynn’s resignation, members of the Senate Intelligence Committee met with the director for more than two hours behind closed doors.

When the doors opened, senators declined to even confirm that Comey had been there, much less what they talked about.

“I think we made our non-statement statement,” ranking Democrat Mark Warner told reporters after repeated questions about the briefing.

“I won’t talk about it at all,” Chairman Richard Burr said.

[Senators Silent After Meeting With FBI Director Comey]

10. Strong-arming the Senate

As Republicans struggled to get their health care bill through the Senate, Trump tried a little strong-arming — tweeting that he was considering stripping the employer contribution for health insurance away from members of Congress.

“If a new HealthCare Bill is not approved quickly, BAILOUTS for Insurance Companies and BAILOUTS for Members of Congress will end very soon!”

It was the latter part of that sentence that got lawmakers’ attention since members of Congress and many staffers were shifted out of the usual Federal Employee Health Benefits structure into the new insurance exchanges set up by the 2010 health care law that Republicans were trying to repeal.

[Trump Threatens Congressional Health Insurance Benefits]

Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos arrives to testify during the Senate Appropriations Committee Labor, Health and Human Services, Education and Related Agencies Subcommittee hearing on the FY2018 budget request for the Education Department on Tuesday, June 6, 2017. (Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)
Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos arrives to testify during the Senate Appropriations Committee Labor, Health and Human Services, Education and Related Agencies Subcommittee hearing on the FY2018 budget request for the Education Department in June. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)

11. Rejected

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos ran into a bipartisan wall when she met with Senate appropriators in June about the Education Department’s budget request.

The department’s budget request proposed cuts in fiscal 2018 to $59 billion from 2017 spending levels of $68.2 billion, while several school choice programs, including vouchers and charter schools, would receive an additional $1.4 billion.

“The kinds of cuts that are proposed in this budget will not occur,” said Missouri Republican Roy Blunt, chairman of the Labor-HHS-Education Appropriations Subcommittee.

[Senate Republicans Reject DeVos’ Proposed Education Cuts]

12. Marathon man

With more than 100 Democratic House candidates in the nation’s capital for training hosted by the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, political handicapper Nathan Gonzales interviewed eight of them in two straight days.

Among the things he learned during the marathon: Democrats have a strong slate of challengers, they’re not all that interested in talking about Trump, and they’re not prepared to talk about Nancy Pelosi’s future.

[I Interviewed 16 House Candidates in Two Days and Survived]

13. Name-drop

All that Kid Rock for Senate speculation came from his name being dropped as a possible candidate at a Michigan Republican Party convention in February.

Rock has supported several major Republican candidates, throwing his support behind Mitt Romney in 2012 and Ben Carson in the 2016 presidential election. He switched to Trump as he became the party’s nominee.

[Kid Rock Eyed as Potential Senate Candidate]

14. Motor City Madman vs. American Bad Ass

Three days after news broke that Kid Rock was being eyed as a possible candidate for Senate, another Detroit rocker said he was interested in getting into the race.

Ted Nugent, who has become as famous for his conservative politics as for his hits like “Cat Scratch Fever,” said he would consider running.

“Though we dodged the toxic blue bullet on November 8 and showed that the real Michigan is bright red, the embarrassing high-crime blue smudges in the state must be fixed and removed ASAP,” the Motor City Madman told the Daily Caller.

[Ted Nugent vs. Kid Rock in Michigan Race?]

UNITED STATES - DECEMBER 11: Judge Roy Moore rides away on his horse after voting at the Gallant Volunteer Fire Department in Gallant, Ala., on Tuesday, Dec. 12, 2017. (Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)
Judge Roy Moore rides away on his horse Sassy after voting in the Alabama Senate special election at the Gallant Volunteer Fire Department in December. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)

15. Expect the unexpected

Before allegations of improper contact with underage girls made the Alabama Senate special election competitive, Roy Moore appeared to be if not a nightmare, then at least a bad dream for Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.

Moore spoke with conservative GOP Sens. Mike Lee of Utah, Ted Cruz of Texas and Rand Paul of Kentucky immediately after he won a runoff against Sen. Luther Strange — all three known to buck leadership and hold up Senate business.

In the end, the allegations were enough to make the impossible happen — Democrat Doug Jones beat the Republican candidate in solid-red Alabama.

[Sen. Roy Moore? What the GOP Can Expect]

16. Failure was an option

Republicans started campaigning on repealing President Barack Obama’s Affordable Care Act even before he signed it into law in 2010.

So a month after Trump’s inauguration with the White House and both chambers of Congress under Republican control, all the talk at the annual Conservative Political Action Conference was about keeping promises.

“This is a test. It’s a test for Republicans in the executive and both Houses of Congress. Do we honor the promises we made? This election was a referendum on repealing Obamacare,” Texas Sen. Ted Cruz. “I think failure is not an option.”

[Conservatives Want Obamacare Repeal, and They Want It Now]

UNITED STATES - SEPTEMBER 7: Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., returns to the meeting with Donald Trump Jr., and the Senate Judiciary staff on Thursday, Sept. 7, 2017. (Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)
Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., returns to a meeting with Donald Trump Jr. and the Senate Judiciary staff in September. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)

17. Bully pulpit

After Sen. Richard Blumenthal talked on CNN about his legislation that would protect Russia investigation special counsel Robert Mueller from being ousted by Trump, the president went off on the Connecticut Democrat on Twitter.

Trump called the senator a “phony Vietnam War con artist,” a reference to Blumenthal fudged military service record.

While he avoided the issue of his military service, Blumenthal said Trump’s reaction was a signal that legislative action to protect Mueller might be required.

“There is an ongoing special counsel investigation. It is real. It is based on facts. That is the important issue. That’s what really matters. Our national security and the rule of law are at stake,” Blumenthal said. “I am not going to be distracted or bullied by these slurs.”

[Blumenthal Says He Won’t Be ‘Bullied’ By ‘Slurs’ From Trump]

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