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: Young Americans Need to Be Prepared to Lead Next Infrastructure Revolution
Infrastructure investments and apprenticeships go hand in hand

Millions of young Americans need to be prepared to fill the high-skilled, high-paying jobs that will power the nation’s next  infrastructure revolution, writes Rep. Donald Norcross, D-N.J. (Joe Raedle/Getty Images file photo)

As we recognize Infrastructure Week around the country, we must take the opportunity to encourage both the work and the workers who will rebuild America.

We must start robustly investing in our aging bridges, roads, rails, ports, airports, electric grid, water pipes, broadband network and more. Not only is it critical for our national security, it will create high-skilled, high-wage jobs and help power our entire economy for generations to come.

DCCC Makes Initial TV Reservations for Fall Fight
Committee is the last of four biggest House-focused groups to make initial buy

DCCC Chairman Ben Ray Luján, D-N.M., right, and House Democratic Caucus Chairman Joseph Crowley, D-N.Y., conduct a news conference at the Capitol in February. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee has reserved more than $12.6 million in broadcast television ad time for the last month of the fall campaigns, according to a source familiar with the committee’s independent expenditure buy.

More ad reservations are certainly to come, considering the DCCC spent more than $66 million on TV ads during the 2016 cycle, in addition to an ongoing, seven-figure digital buy, according to the same source.

Trump Vows to Sign Compromise Prisons Bill
President made similar promise on immigration, then helped sink bipartisan measure

President Donald Trump addresses the press before departing for Dallas, Texas, on May 4. (Photo By Sarah Silbiger/CQ Roll Call)

President Donald Trump on Friday did little to help resolve lawmakers’ standoff over differing House and Senate prison overhaul bills, opting against using his bully pulpit to pressure either side.

Instead, Trump gave both sides leverage when he said his administration “strongly supports these efforts,” referring to each chambers’ bill. The remark was something of a shift for the president. Previously, his administration has voiced support for a measure awaiting House floor action but been cooler to a Senate version that includes proposed sentencing changes.

Republican Divide, Mistrust Dooms Farm Bill in House
Failure is major blow to House Republican leaders

Despite pleas from Speaker Paul D. Ryan and his leadership team, Republicans did not united behind the farm bill. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

Updated 5:20 p.m. | The farm bill’s defeat Friday wasn’t the outcome House Republican leadership was expecting. 

GOP leaders headed to the floor for the vote with an inconclusive whip count. They knew the vote would be close. But they felt fairly confident based on private conversations they had throughout the week that their commitment to hold a vote on immigration legislation in the coming weeks would sway enough Freedom Caucus members whose votes they needed.

Photos of the Week: Rain, National Police Week and Smokey Robinson
The week of May 14 as captured by Roll Call’s photographers

The dome of the U.S. Capitol is seen through rain drops on the skylight of the Capitol Visitor Center on Thursday. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

A rainy week in Washington is coming to a close (though the rain seems intent on sticking around through the weekend). Some of the events this week on Capitol Hill included: a presidential visit to the GOP policy lunch, testimony from singer-songwriter legend Smokey Robinson, the premiere of Sen. John McCain's HBO documentary and oh, more rain.

Here's the entire week in photos:

Rep. Tipton Files Resolution for Return of North Korea-Seized U.S. Ship
USS Pueblo has been on display in North Korea since its capture in 1968

Rep. Scott Tipton, R-Colo., filed a resolution Tuesday seeking the return of the U.S.S. Pueblo from more than 50-year captivity in North Korea. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

Rep. Scott Tipton introduced a resolution in the House this week seeking the return of a U.S. Navy spy vessel that has been in North Korean captivity for more than half a century.

Tipton’s request for the North Korean government to return the USS Pueblo comes less than a month before the planned summit between President Donald Trump and North Korean President Kim Jong-Un on June 12 in Singapore.

Rep. Espaillat Files Complaint Against Lawyer Who Unleashed Racially Charged Rant
Man in video identified as 42-year-old Aaron Schlossberg

Rep. Adriano Espaillat, D-N.Y., filed a grievance against lawyer Aaron Schlossberg on Thursday. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

New York Rep. Adriano Espaillat filed an official grievance through the state court system against a man who was filmed this week going on a racially charged rant in a Midtown Manhattan lunch market.

The video, in which the man berates two workers at the market for speaking Spanish and taking his money through the “welfare” system before threatening to call U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials to deport them, has since gone viral.

Analysis: Giuliani Escalates Effort to Erode Legitimacy of Mueller Probe
Trump lawyer attacks Sessions, Comey and casts president as victim of ‘crimes’

Former Mayor of New York Rudy Giuliani prepares to speak at the Conference on Iran earlier this month shortly after being added to President Donald Trump’s legal team. (Tasos Katopodis/Getty Images)

Former FBI Director James Comey is a “proven liar” and Attorney General Jeff Sessions “didn’t step up” to shut down an “unjustifiable investigation.” Those were just two of the claims made Friday by Rudy Giuliani, one of President Donald Trump’s lawyers, as he continued an escalating effort to erode the legitimacy of the Justice Department’s Russia probe.

As Special Counsel Robert S. Mueller III and his team continue their probe of Russian meddling in the 2016 U.S. election, possible coordination with the Trump-Pence campaign, and whether the president obstructed justice, Giuliani — joined by Trump and others — are executing a strategy intended to raise doubts about the necessity of the investigation, whether Mueller and the FBI are out to get Trump, and the special counsel’s tactics.

Emails Show Farenthold’s Pursuit of Lobbying Job
Disgraced former Texas congressman landed position shortly after leaving Congress

Rep. Blake Farenthold, R-Texas, appeared to have started angling for a new job within a few weeks of leaving the Hill. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Emails between former Rep. Blake Farenthold and his new employer show the disgraced Texas Republican was angling for a lobbying job shortly after resigning from Congress.

The emails obtained by the Dallas Morning News through an open records request showed Farenthold was pushing for an answer on the lobbying job with the port authority in his former district.

Brooks Defends Blaming Falling Rocks for Rising Sea Levels
‘Erosion is the primary cause of sea level rise in the history of our planet,’ Alabama congressman says

Rep. Mo Brooks, R-Ala., argued with a climate scientist in a committee over the cause of rising sea levels. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Alabama Rep. Mo Brooks defended his statement saying falling rocks and erosion were the reason for rising sea levels.

Brooks earned national headlines when at a Wednesday House Science, Space, and Technology Committee hearing, he argued with a climate scientist.

DCCC Raises $11.2 Million in April
Haul includes $3.1 million in online donations

DCCC Chairman Ben Ray Luján pointed to “historic” grass-roots fundraising in announcing the committee’s cash haul last month. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee raised $11.2 million in April, exceeding its monthly fundraising total at the same point last cycle.

Nearly $3.1 million of the April haul came from online donations, with an average donation of $16, according to figures provided first to Roll Call. The $11.2 million total surpassed the $8.5 million the campaign arm of the House Democrats raised in April 2016.

Freedom Caucus Wants to Delay Farm Bill for Immigration Votes
Meadows says more than enough conservatives prepared to block passage of farm bill

House Freedom Caucus Chairman Mark Meadows, R-N.C., and members of his hard-line conservative group want floor action on immigration before the House finishes the farm bill. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Updated 9:25 p.m. | House Freedom Caucus members continued to hold the farm bill hostage to their demand for a floor vote on immigration late into Thursday evening, less than 24 hours before a scheduled vote on final passage on the farm bill. 

Republican leaders appear to need the caucus members’ support to pass the farm bill, which is opposed by most Democrats and some GOP moderates. 

Senate Confirms Gina Haspel to Lead CIA
Bipartisan vote does not follow partisan script

Senators confirmed Gina Haspel to become CIA director before finishing work for the week. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

After a number of Democratic senators announced they would support President Donald Trump’s choice of Deputy CIA Director Gina Haspel to run the agency, she was easily confirmed Thursday afternoon.

In what has become a bit of a regular routine, Senate leaders reached an agreement to expedite votes on a key national security nominee and prevent any threat of a weekend session.

House Republicans Get Closer to Deal for Immigration Floor Votes
Agreement could pave way for farm bill passage as well

Rep. Jeff Denham, R-Calif., and his allies are getting closer to a deal on immigration votes. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

Trump Breaks With New Security Adviser Bolton on North Korea Plan
Records appear to contradict president’s claim that no U.S. official has ever negotiated with China

President Donald Trump, seen here in the White House Rose Garden last week, broke with his national security adviser when talking about North Korea on Thursday.  (Sarah Silbiger/CQ Roll Call)

President Donald Trump on Wednesday broke with his national security adviser, denying that his administration is following the U.S. playbook in Libya — which led to the ouster and death of itsleader at the time — as it prepares for talks with North Korea.

“The Libya model is not a model we have at all with North Korea,” the president told reporters. “With [North Korean leader] Kim Jong Un, he’d be there, running his country.