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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Revealing Tales from the Election Interference Indictment
Russians Used Americans for ‘Discord’

Special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s ongoing investigation produced indictments Friday alleging election interference by Russian nationals. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Russian operatives allegedly kept an internal list of more than 100 real Americans, their political views and activities that they had been asked to perform by the Russians pretending to be grassroots political organizers.

The Justice Department used an indictment Friday to tell the story of some of those requests and the social media campaigns that the Russian operatives put together, enabling them to grow hundreds of thousands of online followers.

Kelly Admits Missteps With White House Aides’ Clearances
Embattled chief of staff to phase out interim security clearances

White House Chief of Staff John F. Kelly, seen here with Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen, has altered how the West Wing handles aides’ security clearances after the Rob Porter domestic assault scandal. (AP/Andrew Harnik file photo)

White House Chief of Staff John F. Kelly, under fire after a former staffer’s domestic abuse scandal, has admitted the Trump team mishandled aides’ background investigations, and ordered new steps in how the West Wing handles security clearances.

In a five-page memo to staffers released Friday afternoon by the White House, Kelly alluded to the Rob Porter scandal but also attempted to spread the blame for a process he said was flawed but was one he inherited.

Analysis: Trump’s Hawks Won Senate Immigration Debate (By Not Losing)
White House remains well-positioned for coming rounds as DACA deadline looms

White House aides Stephen Miller, fourth from right, and Marc Short, second from right, were instrumental in preventing bipartisan immigration proposals President Donald Trump opposed from passing the Senate. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

President Donald Trump’s immigration hard-liners proved Thursday it is possible to win even when the outcome of a battle is, on paper, a draw.

An immigration overhaul amendment backed by the administration received fewer votes Thursday than three other Senate proposals that also failed to pass the Senate. But the White House emerged from that chamber’s underwhelming and unproductive floor debate in strong shape for future fights on the issue.

Womack Picks Bush White House Veteran as Budget Staff Director
Dan Keniry will replace Rick May and start on Feb. 20

Rep. Steve Womack, R-Ark., picked Dan Keniry to replace Rick May as Budget Committee director. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

Dan Keniry, a lobbyist and former legislative aide, has been named the new staff director of the House Budget Committee and will start Feb. 20.

Keniry was deputy assistant for legislative affairs to President George W. Bush, where he was principal liaison to the House. Keniry earlier worked as staff director of the House Rules Committee and a senior floor assistant to then-Speaker J. Dennis Hastert, R-Ill.

Democrats Push Bill They Say Could Have Prevented Parkland Shooting
Measure would provide states grants for passing Gun Violence Restraining Order laws

California Rep. Salud Carbajal and other House Democrats are pushing a bill in the wake of a Florida high school shooting that would reward states that create laws to allow courts to authorize temporary removal of guns when an individual poses a threat to themselves or others. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)

A group of House Democrats on Friday highlighted a bill they’ve authored that they say could have prevented Wednesday’s mass shooting at a Parkland, Florida, high school that left 17 dead.

The bill would authorize a federal grant program for states that enact Gun Violence Restraining Order, or GVRO, laws. These statutes allow law enforcement or family members to petition courts to temporarily remove guns from a person’s possession if they pose a threat to themselves or others. If passed, a separate appropriation measure would be needed to provide the funding for the grants.

GOP Unlikely to Revisit Spending Ban on Gun Violence Research
Congress has restricted such endeavors for more than two decades

Oklahoma Rep. Tom Cole says it was “just not helpful to turn a funding bill into a debate over gun control.” (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Republicans, at least for now, appear unlikely to allow federal funds for research on gun violence after a nearly 22-year prohibition.

Following yet another mass shooting on Wednesday, at a Parkland, Florida, high school that left 17 dead, two key Republican appropriators said Thursday they don’t anticipate removing or altering an amendment in the Labor-HHS-Education appropriations bill that bars the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention from using injury prevention research dollars “to advocate or promote gun control.”

Grand Jury Indicts Russian Nationals for Election Interference
Operatives targeted Clinton, Rubio and Cruz, while largely supporting Trump and Sanders

The office of special counsel Robert S. Mueller III on Friday announced indictments of Russian nationals for election interference. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Updated 3:25 p.m. | The Justice Department charged Russian operatives Friday with a sweeping effort to interfere with the 2016 presidential election, spending millions of dollars to wage social media campaigns, buy political advertisements and pose as grass-roots organizers to spark political rallies on American soil.

The grand jury criminal indictment of 13 Russian nationals and three Russian companies landed like a bombshell in Washington, where the debate has raged over the extent of Russia’s influence in the election while President Donald Trump has waged a campaign to quell special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s investigation.

Schiff Says He Fears Mueller’s Findings Won’t Become Public
Top Intelligence Committee Democrat concerned about politicized decision-making

House Intelligence ranking member Adam B. Schiff is concerned the findings of special counsel Robert S. Mueller III into Russian meddling in the 2016 election won’t be made public. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

The complete findings of special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 elections may not become public when the probe is completed, California Rep. Adam B. Schiff, the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, said Friday.

“One of the issues I have raised with the deputy attorney general” Rod Rosenstein is “how are we going to deal with this when the investigations come to an end?” Schiff said, referring to findings of the Mueller probe. “Will there be a report to Congress and what will Bob Mueller be able to disclose publicly?”

House Budget Being Drafted Despite Nearly Insurmountable Obstacles
Topline spending levels, no path to reconciliation among reasons lawmakers to oppose

Budget Chairman Steve Womack, R-Ark., is writing a fiscal 2019 budget resolution despite major obstacles to passing it. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Obstacles to House Republicans passing a fiscal 2019 budget resolution appear insurmountable and have some members questioning why the Budget Committee is even planning to write one. 

Exactly half of the 22 Republicans on the Budget panel — more than enough to block a partisan budget resolution — voted against last week’s budget deal that set fiscal 2019 topline spending levels of $647 billion for defense and $597 billion for nondefense. Under the agreement, House and Senate leaders committed that if their chambers decide to advance fiscal 2019 budget resolutions, they would write them to those topline numbers.

Hoyer Heads to Rust Belt on Second ‘Listening Tour’
House minority whip will stop in Pittsburgh, Toledo and Indianapolis

House Minority Whip Steny H. Hoyer is going on a listening tour this weekend to talk about entrepreneurship, education and infrastructure. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

As Democrats try to fine tune their economic message heading into this year’s midterms, House Minority Whip Steny H. Hoyer is hitting the road this weekend for his second “Make It in America” listening tour.

Starting Saturday and continuing through Tuesday, the Maryland Democrat will travel to Pittsburgh, followed by Toledo, Ohio, and finally Indianapolis with members of his House caucus. He’ll be meeting with small groups to talk about entrepreneurship, infrastructure and education.

Trump’s Two Personas on Full Display After Shooting
President hints he will visit with families of victims this weekend

Students are brought out of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, after a shooting there left 17 dead. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

The two public personas of Donald Trump were on full display Friday morning, illustrated by a pair of tweets posted just a dozen minutes apart.

In the first social media post, the president flashed the somber side he has shown in the midst of some national tragedies and disasters since he took office. Trump suggested he will be meeting with family members and others affected by the high school massacre in Parkland, Florida, over the long Presidents Day weekend.

Democratic, Republican Responses to Parkland School Shooting Vary Wildly
‘Part of it is a love affair with guns,’ New York Republican Peter King says

Rep. Peter King, R-N.Y., criticized his GOP colleagues for their response to the Parkland shooting. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

As Democrats renewed calls this week for broader background checks and an end to military-grade weapons access, at least a handful of GOP congressmen agreed.

They remained cynical, though, that any substantive measures would pass into law.

Mitt Romney Announces Utah Senate Run
Onetime GOP presidential nominee will make a bid for Hatch’s open seat

Mitt Romney is running for Senate in Utah. (Chris Maddaloni/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Former Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney announced Friday that he will run for Senate in Utah.

“I am running for United States Senate because in these trying times there is no better moment to bring Utah’s values to Washington,” Romney said in a statement. “Utah’s economic and political success is a model for our nation; I am ready to fight for this great state and advocate for solutions that improve the lives of Utahns.”

Huffman Wants Investigation Into Trump Lawyer’s Payment to Porn Star
California Democrat wants to know if Trump campaign tried to ‘evade the fundamental disclosure requirements’

Adult film actress Stormy Daniels’ receipt of a $130,000 payment from President Donald Trump’s lawyer should be investigated, California Rep. Jared Huffman says. (Ethan Miller/Getty Images file photo)

California Rep. Jared Huffman wants the Justice Department to investigate a payment made to an adult film actress to keep silent about her alleged affair with President Donald Trump.

In a letter to Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, the Democratic lawmaker pointed to a New York Times report that Trump’s personal lawyer Michael Cohen admitted he paid Stephanie Clifford, whose stage name is Stormy Daniels, $130,000 out of his own pocket.

Lipinkski Wants Investigation Into Conservative Think Tank
Illinois congressman wants to know if CEO used money from Illinois Policy Institute to benefit for-profit companies

Rep. Daniel Lipinski, D-Ill., wants an investigation into the conservative Illinois Policy Institute. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Democratic Rep. Daniel Lipinski wants the Internal Revenue Service to investigate the Illinois Policy Institute, a conservative think tank. 

Lipinski sent a letter asking the IRS to explore whether CEO John Tillman used money from the institute to benefit for-profit companies, according to ProPublica.