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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Opinion: When Holiday Values Meet Policy, It May Be Awkward
From Roy Moore to immigration, there’s plenty of food for thought this holiday season

Partisanship has affected the way people view the Alabama Senate race featuring Republican Roy Moore, who is facing allegations of sexual misconduct, Curtis writes. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Just as the generosity of Angel Tree donations and turkey giveaways clash with the kill-or-be-killed stampede of folks looking for a Black Friday bargain, the warm holiday greetings lawmakers disseminate this time of year might strike a dissonant cord when compared to the current policies and politics coming out of Washington.

Pre-holiday news has included a tidal wave of charges and accusations of sexual harassment and sexual assault, with some lawmakers preferring to view the stories of women and some men through a lens of partisan politics rather than right and wrong — surely not a positive lesson for the kids gathered around the turkey.

Rep. Joe Barton Weighs Re-Election Following Graphic Photo
Texas Republican is most senior member of Lone Star State delegation

Texas Rep. Joe L. Barton says he has not yet decided on running for an 18th term. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

Texas Rep. Joe L. Barton, the dean of the Texas delegation, is now unsure if he will run for re-election, after a nude photo of him was posted on social media.

“While separated from my second wife, prior to the divorce, I had sexual relationships with other mature adult women,” Barton said in a statement to the Texas Tribune on Wednesday, regarding the photo. “Each was consensual. Those relationships have ended. I am sorry I did not use better judgment during those days. I am sorry that I let my constituents down.”

Capitol Ink | Taxsgiving Day

Virginia Democrats Wrestle Over Nomination Process
10th District is holding primary, 5th isn’t, 7th and 2nd have yet to decide

Democrats have opted for a primary in Virginia’s 10th District, but the party committee in the 7th and 2nd districts have yet to decide how they’ll select their nominees. (Al Drago/CQ Roll Call file photo)

In the most competitive of Virginia’s congressional districts, Democrats have decided to hold a primary to nominate a candidate to take on two-term Republican Rep. Barbara Comstock.

But that wasn’t a given — and it’s still not in another contested district in the state.

Rand Paul Battled Pneumonia, Senator’s Wife Says
Kelley Paul said senator diagnosed upon return to Kentucky after voting in D.C.

Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul tells Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, far right, he is unable to shake hands upon Paul’s arrival to the Capitol on Nov. 13 for his first vote after suffering broken ribs after being attacked by a neighbor in Bowling Green, Ky. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

Sen. Rand Paul has not had a good night’s sleep since being attacked outside his Kentucky home earlier this month.

That’s according to the Republican senator’s wife, Kelley Paul, who published an opinion piece outlining the serious medical predicament facing her husband.

Conyers Must Resign, Top Detroit Newspaper Says
‘A tragic end to Conyers’ public career, but a needed warning that this can never be tolerated’

Rep. John Conyers, D-Mich., walks down the House steps after voting in the Capitol on Friday, Nov. 3, 2017. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)

The most widely read print and digital media outlet in Michigan has called for hometown Rep. John Conyers Jr. to resign.

John Conyers Jr. must go — after 53 years in Congress, after a stellar career of fighting for equality, after contributing so much to southeast Michigan and the nation,” the Detroit Free Press editorialized Tuesday.

Investigators Accuse Brady of Concealing Bribe to Primary Challenger
FBI officials combed through Pennsylvania Democrat’s emails to assess his role in payoff scheme

Pennsylvania Rep. Robert A. Brady has been accused by the FBI of leading a scheme to conceal a bribe payment to a onetime Democratic challenger. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)

The FBI is combing through Pennsylvania Rep. Robert A. Brady’s emails to see if he led a conspiracy to pay off a challenger to drop out of the Democratic primary in his district in 2012.

The bureau has accused the longtime lawmaker of leading a scheme to conceal a $90,000 payment to Jimmie Moore, a former Philadelphia Municipal Court judge. Moore has pleaded guilty and is cooperating with authorities. The email search marks the first time Brady himself has been personally investigated.

Poll: Minority of Republicans Want Moore Out of Alabama Senate Race
Survey shows doubts about well-documented allegations

Alabama Republican Senate nominee Roy Moore, is questioned by the media in the Capitol on Oct. 31. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Just 30 percent of Republicans responding to a new national poll think former judge Roy Moore should end his bid for the Senate in Alabama.

That is despite detailed allegations of sexual harassment and other inappropriate behavior.

By the Numbers: Harassment Claims on Capitol Hill Peaked in 2011
2016 saw the lowest number of claims over the last 10 years

The U.S. Capitol as seen from the East Plaza. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

With two Democrats, Sen. Al Franken of Minnesota and Rep. John Conyers Jr. of Michigan, facing allegations of sexual misconduct in and outside the workplace, Hill watchers may be wondering just how many sexual harassment complaints get filed each year in the Capitol. 

The answer is less than clear because Congress’ Office of Compliance releases only topline numbers on the complaints filed with the agency each year. In the OOC annual report on the state of the congressional workplace, harassment is one line item, which could include sexual and other types of hostile workplace harassment. 

Opinion: Sexual Harassment From John Tower to Donald Trump — and Beyond
America has belatedly reached a moment of reckoning about sexual harassment

Sen. Al Franken should stay in the Senate and give Minnesota voters a chance to offer their own verdict in 2020 on accusations of sexual harassment made against him, Walter Shapiro writes. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

In early 1989, with the inauguration of George Bush, John Tower’s failed confirmation fight for secretary of Defense riveted Washington.

A diminutive former four-term Texas Republican senator who had served as chairman of the Armed Services Committee, Tower seemed, on paper, as a noncontroversial choice.

Trump Breaks Silence on Moore Allegations
‘I can tell you one thing for sure: We don’t need a liberal person in there’

President Donald Trump points to his ears as he tries to hear shouted questions from reporters while departing the White House for Camp David September 8, 2017 in Washington, D.C. (Win McNamee/Getty Images)

Updated 5:27 p.m. | President Donald Trump broke his silence Tuesday on Republican Roy Moore and the sexual assault allegations hindering his Alabama Senate bid but isn’t ruling out campaigning for the embattled candidate.

“I can tell you one thing for sure: We don’t need a liberal person in there, a Democrat,” Trump said over the loud hum of Marine One’s engine as he left for Florida.

Analysis: 4 Takeaways From Trump’s First Turkey Pardoning
Even when Trump passes presidential test, Russia matter looms

A protester, David Barrows, wears a President Donald Trump mask while holding a sign outside the White House on Tuesday as the president prepared for the annual turkey-pardoning ceremony. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

Drumstick is a free bird, thanks to President Donald Trump.

The commander in chief used his executive authorities Tuesday to pardon the Minnesota-bred fowl just two days before he might have become someone’s Thanksgiving meal.

Hatch Still Says He Plans to Seek Re-Election
Utah Republican cites remaining time as chairman of Finance Committee

Sen. Orrin G. Hatch, R-Utah, is preparing to bring a tax code overhaul to the floor. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)

As he prepares to bring the first tax code re-write since 1986 to the Senate floor, Sen. Orrin G. Hatch of Utah is saying his Senate service might not be nearing its end.

In a report published Tuesday, Hatch told the Wall Street Journal he does intend to seek another term.

Opinion: Stop the Next Internet Power Grab
FCC should establish a strong deregulatory federal framework for broadband regulations

Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, wants the Federal Communications Commission to establish a strong deregulatory federal framework for broadband regulations. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

By Sen. Ted Cruz and Michael O’Rielly

The internet has changed how we communicate, engage in commerce and live our lives. It not only provides a platform that can be used to promote free speech, but serves as a great equalizer when it comes to jobs and opportunity by dramatically reducing the barriers of entry for anyone with a new idea and broadband connection.

DeGette Says Former Rep. Bob Filner Groped and Tried to Kiss Her
Colorado congresswoman is first to publicly identify attacker in string of recent sexual assault allegations

Rep. Diana DeGette, D-Colo., said Monday former Rep. Bob Filner, D-Calif., tried to kiss her in a Capitol Hill elevator when they were both in Congress. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

Rep. Diana DeGette said Monday former California Rep. Bob Filner tried to sexually assault her in an elevator on the Hill “some years ago.”

The Colorado Democrat’s revelation marks the first time in a string of recent allegations from current lawmakers who say they were sexually harassed by members of Congress that the victim has publicly named the accused.