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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Karen Handel wants a 2020 rematch for the Georgia 6th seat
The former GOP congresswoman lost by 1 point last fall to Lucy McBath

Rep. Karen Handel, R-Ga., and Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa, talk as they leave the House Republican Conference meeting in the Capitol on Tuesday, Nov. 14, 2017. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Former GOP Rep. Karen Handel announced on Monday she’s running for her old seat in Georgia’s 6th District in 2020.

Democratic Rep. Lucy McBath defeated Handel by 1 point last fall to flip the longtime Republican-held seat, which Democrats had spent millions of dollars trying to do in the 2017 special election. With the help of outside spending from national GOP groups, Handel — a former Georgia secretary of state — defeated Democrat Jon Ossoff that year in the most expensive contest in House race history.

White House says Democrats and Mueller tried to ‘overthrow’ Trump
White House spokeswoman warns that Democrats should ‘be careful’ about continuing investigations

White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said the media and Democrats have accused the president of being an agent of a foreign government, which she said amounts to treason. (Sarah Silbiger/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Updated 9:55 a.m. | The White House lashed out at Democrats and Special Counsel Robert S. Mueller III, accusing them of trying to “overthrow” President Donald Trump.

White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders called Mueller being unable to establish Trump 2016 campaign coordination with Russians “a great reminder also of the rule of law … but it’s also a sad reminder of the lack of accountability that started to seep into the media and into Democrats that have gone out for the last two years actually over two years and accused the president the United States of being an agent of a foreign government.

Some Republicans want an apology over Mueller investigation
Republicans celebrating a win, some calling for apologies, but members from both parties still want to see the full report

Special Counsel Robert S. Mueller III “did not establish” collusion between the Donald Trump campaign and Russia but left the question of whether the president obstructed justice up to Attorney General William Barr. (Douglas Graham/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Congressional Republicans claimed victory Sunday that a letter from Attorney General William Barr summarizing the special counsel investigation ended the debate about whether Donald Trump’s campaign knowingly colluded with the Russian government.

But Democrats said the letter did not adequately allay their concerns about whether the president is guilty of obstruction of justice, and demanded that the attorney general hand over the full Mueller report and its underlying documents.

Road ahead: As Congress digests Mueller conclusions, it has plenty more on its plate
House will attempt to override Trump’s veto, while Senate takes up Green New Deal

A Capitol Visitor Center employee sets up a shade umbrella last Tuesday outside the CVC entrance. The Senate and House minority parties may need an umbrella to block the shade the majorities plan to throw at them this week amid votes on the Green New Deal and overriding a presidential veto. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

Capitol Hill spent much of the weekend waiting to find out what special counsel Robert S. Mueller III discovered about Russian efforts to undermine the 2016 election. But as Congress digests the principal conclusions of his report, prepared by Attorney General William P. Barr, leaders will also try to get members to address other priorities.

Barr’s four-page letter sent to Congress on Sunday afternoon stated that Mueller “did not find that the Trump campaign or anyone associated with it, conspired or coordinated with the Russian government in these efforts.”

Congress set aside $1 billion after Parkland. Now schools are starting to use it
From panic buttons to metal detectors, communities take a page from Fort Knox

Communities around the country are beginning to spend the money that Congress designated for school safety in the wake of mass shootings last year. Above, the March for Our Lives drew young people to downtown D.C. in March 2018. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

Amid the rolling farmland of southwest Iowa sits the 7,800-population town of Creston, where the school district boasts of a “state-of-the-art school safety and security system” with a command center to monitor nearly 200 cameras, or roughly one for every seven students.

But the school superintendent isn’t done yet, thanks to a $500,000 grant from a program Congress stuffed into an omnibus spending bill a year ago. He plans to buy mobile metal detectors that could also be set up at football games, a shooter alert system that can sense when a gun goes off in one of the three schools and notify police, a “panic button” system and a new entry system.

The ABCs of the Green New Deal
If climate change is the fulcrum propping up the plan, economic inequality is the foot stomping down on the raised end of the seesaw

For supporters of the Green New Deal resolution — sponsored by Sen. Edward J. Markey and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez — the threat of climate change is a fulcrum to tackle the country’s social, economic, racial and historical ills. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Since the dangers of greenhouse gases became clear, American politicians have whittled away at climate change in incremental steps: energy-efficiency policies, U.N. climate treaties, basic research, fuel-consumption standards.

But they have not enacted a comprehensive plan to address climate change at the scale and with the speed climate scientists say is required to insulate humanity from what is to come.

Myths of the Green New Deal debunked
Roll Call Decoder

Mueller report doesn’t say what GOP says it does
Mueller’s primary mission was to see if he could establish an actionable case, and Barr’s letter said he couldn’t

President Donald Trump returns to the White House on Sunday after spending the weekend in Florida after Attorney General William Barr released his summary of the special counsel investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election. (Alex Wong/Getty Images)

ANALYSIS — The way GOP lawmakers reacted to Attorney General William Barr's letter to Congress on Sunday outlining the key findings of special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s final Russia investigation report, you would think special counsel prosecutors went out of their way to prove Trump’s innocence on collusion and obstruction allegations.

But statements from Republican leaders in both the House and Senate — and in the White House — do not accurately reflect the direct quotes from Mueller’s report that Barr included in his letter.

Trump spikes football, saying Mueller probe was ‘illegal takedown that failed’
Democrats signal that they don’t think the game is over yet

Supporters of President Donald Trump rally near Trump Tower in New York on Saturday. Grassroots pro-Trump organizations from New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, and Pennsylvania called on supporters to gather, rally and network among members. (Stephanie Keith/Getty Images)

ANALYSIS — “No collusion. No collusion,” President Donald Trump said before he had even reached a group of reporters last week on the White House’s South Lawn.

That was Wednesday. A few hours later, scuttlebutt began to circulate around Washington that Special Counsel Robert S. Mueller III was about to deliver his report on Russia’s 2016 election meddling and possible obstruction of justice by the president. Mueller did so two days later, and Attorney General William Barr summarized the former FBI director’s findings two days after that in a letter to lawmakers.

Barr: Mueller ‘did not establish’ Trump-Russia collusion, but obstruction questions remain
White House says AG’s summary of special counsel report exonerates president

Special counsel Robert Mueller walks with his wife Ann Mueller on March 24, 2019 in Washington, DC. Special counsel Robert Mueller has delivered his report on alleged Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election to Attorney General William Barr. (Tasos Katopodis/Getty Images)

That assertion is, of course, the opposite of what Mueller wrote in his report, according to Barr’s summary.

“While this report does not conclude that the President committed a crime, it also does not exonerate him” from obstruction of justice charges, Mueller wrote.

Mueller probe could spark historic balance of powers debate
Lawmakers, administration set for battle over how much of report to make public

Special counsel Robert S. Mueller III walks after attending church on Sunday in Washington. He turned in his report on the Russia investigation to Attorney General William P. Barr on Friday. (Tasos Katopodis/Getty Images)

The political spotlight focused brightest on reticent special counsel Robert S. Mueller III for nearly two years, his every legal move and court filing scrutinized by a country eager to decipher what the Russia investigation had uncovered about President Donald Trump.

But with Mueller’s work done, the question changes from what Mueller found to how much of it House Judiciary Chairman Jerrold Nadler and other lawmakers can make public.

Trump and Netanyahu: Embattled leaders turn to each other for political boost
President, Israeli prime minister meet Monday amid scandals for both

President Donald Trump and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu participate in a joint news conference in the East Room of the White House in February 2017. (Alex Wong/Getty Images file photo)

Two embattled leaders will meet Monday at the White House, one hoping the visit will boost him in an election just over the horizon and the other hopeful it will keep his conservative base engaged for an election in 20 months.

President Donald Trump will welcome Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to the executive mansion for meetings Monday and a dinner in his honor on Tuesday evening. The longtime Israeli leader faces a Knesset election on April 9 and hopes to showcase to voters at home that his relationship with Trump is too important to oust him from office.

McConnell, Graham leave room for Barr to withhold parts of Mueller report
Other congressional leaders, Trump call on attorney general to release full report to public

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell left it up to the discretion of Attorney General William P. Barr to keep some parts of the Mueller report out of the public eye. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

While Democratic lawmakers and many of their Republican colleagues called on Attorney General William P. Barr to publicly release the full Mueller report, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Senate Judiciary Chairman Lindsey Graham left room for Barr to keep parts of it under wraps at the Justice Department.

Special counsel Robert S. Mueller III delivered the final report on his investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 elections and possible collusion between Russia and the Donald Trump campaign to Barr on Friday.

Robert Mueller submits Russia report to Justice Department
Report’s delivery sets up showdown over how much public will see of it

Special Counsel Robert S. Mueller III on Friday delivered his report on his investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election and possible connections between the Russians and the Donald Trump campaign to Attorney General Robert Barr on Friday. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Special Counsel Robert S. Mueller III on Friday submitted to the Justice Department the long-awaited final report on his nearly two-year investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election and possible links between Russia and the Trump campaign.

No more indictments are expected in the investigation, a senior DOJ official told reporters.