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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After 181 Years of No Hats in Congress, Dems Eye Exception for Religious Garb
Ilhan Omar will become the first federal legislator to wear a religious headscarf

Member-elect Ilhan Omar, D-Minn., will be the first member of congress to wear a hijab. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

Hats have been banned from the House chamber of the Capitol for nearly two centuries — 181 years, to be exact. Under a new proposal from Democrats, the rule would be relaxed to allow religious headwear, like a hijab or kippah. 

The change was proposed jointly by Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi, Incoming Rules Chairman Jim McGovern and member-elect Ilhan Omar as part of a larger overhaul package.

Trump Campaign Tests Out Nickname Game for 2020
NRSC, outside groups leaned into tactic to vanquish Heitkamp, Donnelly in midterms

Expect a batch of new nicknames for President Donald Trump's political opponents as the 2020 campaign heats up. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

President Donald Trump’s campaign team is experimenting in its laboratory with potential nicknames for his potential opponents in the 2020 presidential election.

The president’s trademark campaign tactic from 2016 — the birth year of “Crooked” Hillary Clinton, “Little” Marco Rubio, and “Lyin’” Ted Cruz — became so ubiquitous in his speeches and campaign literature that it spawned an exhaustive Wikipedia list of everyone whose name Trump has manipulated for political gain.

Grassley Will Step into Tax Storm, Finance Gavel in Hand
Iowa Republican was a key player on big-ticket measures during his previous tenure as Finance chairman

Chairman Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, conducts a Senate Judiciary Committee markup in October. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

Sen. Charles E. Grassley is expected to be the next chairman of the Finance Committee, putting the Iowa Republican at the center of the storm in the 116th Congress on what could be divisive debates over tax, trade and health care policy.

Grassley cited a sense of “optimism” fueled by the “pro-growth” policies of a Republican president and Congress. “Looking ahead. ... I want to continue to work to make sure that as many Americans as possible get to experience this good economy for themselves,” he said in a statement released Friday. “That means working to provide Americans with additional tax relief and tax fairness so they can spend more of their hard-earned money on what’s important to them.”

Chuck Grassley Opts for Finance Chairmanship
Move kicks off a round of musical chairs in the Senate, opening up a slot for a new Judiciary panel chairman

Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, right, will succeed Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, as gavel-holder on the Senate Finance panel. That means Judiciary will be looking for a new leader too. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

Republican Sen. Charles E. Grassley announced he would take over the gavel of the tax-writing Finance Committee in the 116th Congress, a position he held in the early part of 2001 and again from 2003 through 2006.

Grassley’s move also opens up a slot for a new Judiciary panel chairman, likely South Carolina’s Lindsey Graham

Fudge to Make Speaker Bid Decision After Thanksgiving
Potential challenger seen heading into Pelosi’s office

Rep. Marcia Fudge, D-Ohio, calls the convention to order at the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia on Wednesday, July 27, 2016. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Rep. Marcia Fudge said she will make a decision on whether to run for speaker sometime after Thanksgiving.

The Ohio Democrat said she has not decided yet whether she would seek the Democratic Caucus’s nomination during leadership elections Nov. 28.

The Survivors: Three Republicans in Clinton Districts Hang On
A combination of individual brands and attacks on Democratic challengers helped them win

Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick, R-Pa., won re-election last week as his fellow Republicans in the suburbs lost. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

House Republicans in districts Hillary Clinton won in 2016 were largely washed away in the Democratic wave last week — but three managed to hang on.

GOP Reps. John Katko of New York, Brian Fitzpatrick of Pennsylvania and David Valadao all won their races on Tuesday, according to The Associated Press (though Valadao’s margin has narrowed with votes still being counted).

Suicide Nooses in Cells Prompt ICE Query From Elizabeth Warren, Democrats
Letters come after DHS inspector general found makeshift nooses in detention cells

Sen. Elizabeth Warren is leading a letter to the private companies that run ICE detention facilities. (Sarah Silbiger/CQ Roll Call file photo)

A group of Senate Democrats want the private prison industry to explain whether it is complying with federal standards for housing at ICE immigration detention centers.

Led by Massachusetts Democratic Sen. Elizabeth Warren, the senators have written to CoreCivic and GEO group about their housing practices following reports from the inspector general at the Homeland Security Department.

Congress Relatively Mum on Raging California Camp Fire
A list of missing people spiked to more than 600 names Thursday

Few members of Congress outside of the California delegation have weighed in on the Camp Fire raging north of Sacramento. Years of drought have created a “tinderbox” in the Golden State, according to NASA. (NASA)

Despite a dramatic spike in the number of people unaccounted for as the historically deadly Camp Fire rages in northern California, members of Congress have been relatively quiet on the natural disaster. 

A list of missing people ballooned from 130 names to nearly 300 names within hours Wednesday, the Mercury News reported, and reached more than 600 names by late Thursday. Sixty-three people have died, and another three have died in a simultaneous blaze in Southern California. 

Mike Johnson Elected Next Republican Study Committee Chairman

Rep. Mike Johnson, R-La., leaves the House Republican Conference meeting at the Capitol Hill Club on Wednesday, May 16, 2018. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Louisiana freshman Rep. Mike Johnson will chair the Republican Study Committee in the 116th Congress, after winning a race Friday against five-term California Rep. Tom McClintock, an official said.

Why Nancy Pelosi Won't Back Down
Podcast, Episode 128

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi takes the podium before speaking during an election watch party at the Hyatt Regency on November 6, 2018 in Washington, DC. . Photo by Zach Gibson/Getty Images

6 House Races, 1 Senate Race Still Uncalled as Mia Love Pulls Closer
Utah Republican trailed by 3 percent on election night, but is now only 873 votes down to Democratic challenger

Rep. Mia Love, R-Utah, walks down the House steps after final votes of the week in the Capitol on March 8, 2018. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Officials have yet to determine the winners in one Senate contest and six House races — a week and a half after the midterm elections.

As the Florida Senate race between Sen. Bill Nelson and his GOP challenger, Gov. Rick Scott, heads to a manual recount, a federal judge called the state’s election processes “the laughing stock of the world.”

There’s Some WTF in This Lame Duck Session of Congress
Appointed, maybe and not-yet, maybe-never members dot the Capitol

Members-elect from the 116th Congress pose for the freshman class photo on the East Front of the Capitol on November 14, 2018. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

Every lame duck session of Congress is special in its own way, and the current one, operating alongside the orientation session for newly elected members of Congress, has its share of oddities and weirdness. 

Speaker Paul D. Ryan swore in new members of the House on Tuesday, those who won special elections to fill out unexpired terms, Joseph D. Morelle, D-N.Y., and Mary Gay Scanlon, D-Pa. Oh, and also an “appointed” member, Republican Kevin Hern of Oklahoma.  

Black Caucus at Crossroads as Marcia Fudge Mulls Speaker Bid
Several CBC members still supporting Pelosi but Chairman Cedric Richmond predicts flips if Fudge runs

Reps. Marcia Fudge, D-Ohio, left, pictured at the 2016 Democratic National Convention with James Clyburn, D-S.C., is thinking about running for speaker. Clyburn said he’s not discouraged Fudge from running but that he’s still supporting Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

The possibility that Ohio Rep. Marcia Fudge might challenge Nancy Pelosi for speaker seems to have some of her colleagues in the Congressional Black Caucus torn, despite many saying Thursday they still plan to support Pelosi.

But one notable member of the CBC would not make such a pledge, Caucus Chairman Cedric Richmond.

Budget Overhaul Panel Can’t Pull It Together in Time for Thanksgiving
Lowey: Reporting out final product as-is would ‘doom it to failure’

Rep. Steve Womack, says that while the joint committee package does not completely satisfy every member of the panel, “that is no reason for us not to move forward and finish this.” (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

The special select panel charged with overhauling the congressional budget process on Thursday punted a final vote on recommendations until after Thanksgiving amid disagreement by its two leaders over when the panel should act.

The committee is scheduled to reconvene at 2 p.m. Nov. 27, three days ahead of the Nov. 30 deadline for the committee to report a bill.

Democrats’ Draft House Rules Would Return Some Regular Order
All major bills going through committee is just one of many rule changes proposed

Incoming Rules Committee Chairman Jim McGovern, D-Mass., presented draft proposals for overhauling House rules to the Democratic Caucus on Thursday. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

Democrats’ draft proposals for overhauling the House rules would return at least some so-called regular order processes to the lower chamber by ensuring major bills go through committee before hitting the floor. 

The requirement that all bills being brought to the floor under a rule must have gone through a committee hearing and markup is just one of several notable changes Democrats are floating to House rules now that they’ll be in the majority.