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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Senate Schedule for Next Week: VA Nominee and Appropriations

Senators are expected to continue meeting with Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh, seen here heading to a meeting with Sen. Dean Heller. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

The Senate wrapped up its legislative business for the week on Thursday afternoon after ditching a vote on judicial nominee Ryan Bounds, whose nomination was subsequently withdrawn altogether by the White House, and a resolution disapproving of any attempts to make U.S. citizens available to Russian interrogators

The Senate will next convene at 3 p.m. on Monday, July 23, 2018. Following leader remarks, the Senate will proceed to executive session to consider the nomination of Robert L. Wilkie to be secretary of Veterans Affairs.

Most GOP Climate Caucus Members Back Anti-Carbon Tax Measure

Rep. Fred Upton, R-Mich., pictured here, says his vote against a carbon tax is not inconsistent with his membership in the Climate Solutions Caucus. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

Only six of the more than 40 Republicans in the bipartisan Climate Solutions Caucus voted against a GOP resolution opposing a carbon tax policy Thursday.

The climate-conscious Republicans who voted for the resolution (H Con Res 119) had a ready reason for what might appear to be an inconsistent vote: They don’t favor the generic carbon tax that the measure frames.

Congresswomen to Trump: Appoint an Election Security Czar
Rice and Stefanik send a letter to the president as talk of Russia grips House floor

Rep. Elise Stefanik, R-N.Y., leaves the House Republicans' last month. Stefanik and Rep. Kathleen Rice wrote a letter to President Donald Trump urging him to appoint an elections security coordinator.  (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Two New York congresswomen on Thursday urged President Donald Trump to appoint an election security czar to combat election meddling.

Democratic Rep. Kathleen Rice and Republican Rep. Elise Stefanik sent a letter calling for a “centralized, senior position” to knock down “silos” and bring together efforts at federal agencies such as the FBI and Department of Homeland Security. 

Charlie Palmer Steak, Men’s Wearhouse – When PACs Pick Up Lawmaker Tabs
Report: Congress members and Candidates spend megabucks in predictable places

Charlie Palmer’s, a white-tablecloth steakhouse steps from the Senate office building, was the favorite D.C. dining destination for politicians using money from leadership PACs, according to a watchdog report. (CQ Roll Call file photo)

Want to know how to live like a Washington insider? You could do worse than peruse the latest report on improper spending in Congress. 

One takeaway: From dining to hotels to shopping, D.C. politicians do not opt for adventure, at least when someone else is paying the tab. 

House Schedule Before August Recess Is Set
McCarthy, Hoyer colloquy gets heated over ICE resolution

One more week until summer break! From left, Rep. Ed Perlmutter, D-Colo., gets a high five from Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Fla., as they walk down the House steps with Rep. Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz., after the final votes of the week on Thursday, July 19, 2018. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

Here is the House Schedule for the Week of July 23, the last week the chamber is scheduled to be in session until after Labor Day.

During their weekly colloquy, Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., said that next week the House is expected to consider three or more measures under rules, including the Protect Medical Innovation Act, the Increasing Access to Lower Premium Plans Act and the Restoring Access to Medication Act.

Rick Nolan Retained Staffer on Campaign Payroll After Harassment Allegations
Three former female employees have alleged former legislative director Jim Swiderski sexually harassed them

Rep. Rick Nolan, D-Minn., above, retained former legislative director Jim Swiderski on his campaign payroll in 2015 even after Swiderski resigned from his congressional office amid sexual misconduct allegations. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Just months after dismissing his top legislative aide in 2015 for multiple allegations of sexual harassment, Rep. Rick Nolan hired the aide to work on his 2016 re-election campaign.

Three former women employees for the Minnesota Democratic-Farmer-Labor congressman told MinnPost, which originally reported this story, that Nolan’s legislative director, Jim Swiderski, repeatedly harassed — and in some cases groped — them in the early- and mid-2010s.

White House Pulls Circuit Court Nominee at Last Minute
Ryan Bounds nomination to 9th Circuit was set to be voted down

The nomination of Ryan Wesley Bounds for United States Circuit Judge for the Ninth Circuit was withdrawn at the last minute by the White House amid questions about his past writings. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Facing imminent defeat even in a Republican-controlled Senate, the White House on Thursday withdrew the nomination of Ryan Wesley Bounds to be a judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit, an abrupt turn of events just moments before the chamber was set to vote on confirmation of the judge.

The late-breaking issue appeared to be writings that came to light and turned the tide against him with some Republicans. 

Democrats Demand Paperwork Before Meeting With Kavanaugh
Judiciary Committee members debated the Supreme Court nominee’s voluminous paper trail Thursday

Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh, waits for a meeting in the Capitol on Thursday. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

Senate Democrats haven’t had private meetings with Judge Brett Kavanaugh in his first two weeks as a Supreme Court nominee, and aren’t likely to until there is progress on getting access to his lengthy paper trail about his prior political work.

Democrats want assurances that the National Archives will agree to send to the Senate Judiciary Committee volumes of documents about Kavanaugh’s past, which includes a lengthy tenure in the George W. Bush White House, a senior Senate Democratic aide said Thursday. And they want to know that the document access won’t be thwarted by claims of executive privilege.

White House Says It Won’t Let Russia Interrogate Americans
Senate voted Thursday to approve measure rejecting the idea

The Monday summit between President Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin continued to roil the world, including a kerfuffle over whether the administration was considering allowing former Ambassador Michael McFaul to be interrogated by the Russians. (Chris McGrath/Getty Images)

Updated 3:19 p.m. | Facing an intense backlash, including from Congress, the White House on Thursday announced it does not plan to have allow any current or former U.S. officials to be questioned by the Russian government, part of an ongoing — and often clumsy — effort to recover from President Donald Trump’s Monday summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

“It is a proposal that was made in sincerity by President Putin, but President Trump disagrees with it,” White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said in a statement. “Hopefully President Putin will have the 12 identified Russians come to the United States to prove their innocence or guilt.”

Internal Poll: Republican Harkey Has Slight Lead Over Levin in Race for Issa’s Seat
California’s 49th District is a top target for Democrats in November

Republican Diane Harkey will face Democrat Mike Levin in November in California’s 49th District. (Thomas McKinless/CQ Roll Call file photo).

The open-seat race in California’s 49th District is already close, according to an internal poll from Republican Diane Harkey’s campaign, obtained by Roll Call.

Harkey, an elected member of the California State Board of Equalization that oversees taxation, led Democratic environmental lawyer Mike Levin, 46 percent to 43 percent. Nine percent of respondents were undecided. 

Pence Again Presses McCaskill on Coming Supreme Court Vote
Heckler interrupts VP in St. Louis over migrant family separation

Vice President Mike Pence enters the room earlier this month as Sen. James Inhofe, right, conducts a meeting after a Senate GOP policy luncheon in the Capitol. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Vice President Mike Pence returned to Missouri Thursday to again campaign against Democratic Sen. Claire McCaskill and raise money for her opponent, pressuring her to support President Donald Trump’s second Supreme Court nominee.

“If Claire won’t vote to confirm a judge like Brett Kavanaugh, you need to vote to give Missouri a senator who will,” Pence said in St. Louis of the solidly conservative D.C. Circuit appellate judge.

Will Newly Revealed Radio Comments Hurt Jason Lewis?
Democrats attacked Minnesota Republican for similar past comments during 2016 race

Minnesota Rep. Jason Lewis was attacked during the 2016 campaign for making controversial comments about women when he was a radio talk show host. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)

The latest controversial comments unearthed from Minnesota Rep. Jason Lewis’ days as a talk radio host have raised questions about whether the freshman Republican will face a reckoning this fall.

Lewis is well-known for having made sexist comments similar to the ones made public by CNN on Wednesday. Those remarks were a major focus of the Democrats’ 2016 message against him in Minnesota’s 2nd District, yet he still defeated Democrat Angie Craig by 2 points.

Universal Vaccine Research Moves Ahead After Deadly Flu Season
Yearly vaccines still only 10 to 60 percent effective, NIH official says

Simone Groper receives a flu shot at a Walgreens pharmacy in San Francisco in January. After a particularly deadly flu season, trials for a universal vaccine are advancing. (Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

Scientists from across the country and the globe are making progress toward developing a universal flu vaccine, but reaching that goal will likely still take years, a top administration health official said Wednesday.

The National Institutes of Health recently funded a phase two clinical trial of what is one of several likely candidates for a universal influenza vaccine, said Anthony Fauci, head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, which is part of the NIH. The first version of a vaccine that might protect against any type of flu likely won’t actually be universal but more targeted to specific strains, though, Fauci said.

Democrats Push Senate to Take Legal Action Backing Pre-existing Condition Protections
McCaskill and Manchin among leaders of the effort

Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., shakes hands with Attorney General Patrick Morrisey, who is also running for U.S. Senate, before the start of the Ripley 4th of July Grand Parade in Ripley, West Virginia on July 4. The two men are on opposite sides of a debate over pre-existing conditions that could become a part of their campaigns. (Sarah Silbiger/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Updated 3:15 p.m. | In a possible preview of Senate Democrats’ midterm political messaging, Democratic senators want the chamber to go to court to defend health insurance protections for people with pre-existing conditions.

Two of the Democrats leading the effort face Republican challengers in 2018 who have signed on to the legal effort that could undermine the regulations from the 2010 health care law: state attorneys general in Missouri, Josh Hawley, and West Virginia, Patrick Morrisey.

Gas Leak Stinks Up Senate and Closes Roads
Areas near Hart Senate Office Building affected

A gas leak prompted an evacuation near the Hart Senate Office Building on Friday. (Katherine Tully-McManus/CQ Roll Call)

Roads were closed on the Senate side of the Capitol Thursday morning after a construction crew hit a gas line. A strong gas smell blanketed the area, even outside of the road closures. The D.C. Fire department was on the scene to address the leak. 

Capitol Police enforcing the road and sidewalk closures outside of the Hart Senate Office Building said there was not an estimated time for a resolution of the leak.