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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Trump Calls Spending Plan ‘Ridiculous’
President’s tweet raises doubts he’ll sign bill that would avert shutdown at end of month

President Donald Trump called the government spending package headed his way “ridiculous,” raising doubts about whether he’ll sign it. (Alex Wong/Getty Images)

President Donald Trump raised the odds of a government shutdown that lawmakers from both parties thought they had averted, calling a spending package headed his way to keep the federal lights on “ridiculous.”

“I want to know, where is the money for Border Security and the WALL in this ridiculous Spending Bill, and where will it come from after the Midterms?” Trump tweeted Thursday morning.

As Trump Waffles, House Republicans Confident They’ll Avert Shutdown
Still president, conservatives wary of GOP leaders’ government funding strategy

Rep. Mike Simpson, R-Idaho, is confident there will not be a government shutdown despite President Donald Trump’s mixed signals on the matter. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

House Republicans prepare a legislative strategy with President Donald Trump seemingly on board, only for the president to catch them off guard with a last-minute tweet suggesting his opposition to the plan.

That scenario has played out a few times this year as lawmakers debated immigration and appropriations bills. And it could realistically happen again next week as Congress plans to pass legislation to avert a government shutdown that Trump has already signaled he might force.

Cruz, O’Rourke Steal Spotlight, but House Races in Texas Are Heating Up Too
Democrats eye multiple pickup opportunities in Lone Star State

Democrats say energy around Democratic Rep. Beto O’Rourke’s Senate campaign could help their House candidates in Texas. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)

The Texas Senate race has been grabbing headlines lately, but Democrats hoping for good news in November from the Lone Star State might want to focus further down the ballot, where several contests could be critical to House control.

Both parties have ramped up their activities in a handful of competitive Texas districts, with the Republican and Democratic campaign committees launching television ads in key races last week.

How the Republicans Fell for Trump’s Overconfidence Game
With the base seeing all criticism as ‘Fake News,’ the GOP could be in for a rough November

Convinced that polls are rigged for the Democrats, strong backers of President Donald Trump have convinced themselves that the Republican Congress is an impregnable fortress, Shapiro writes. (Al Drago/CQ Roll Call file photo)

OPINION  — The topic never pops up in statistical analyses or pundit roundtables on cable TV, but one of the most underappreciated factors shaping politics is overconfidence.

Historically, second-term presidents have been particularly vulnerable to arrogant overreach. For eight decades, the prime example has been Franklin Roosevelt’s ill-fated plan following his 1936 landslide re-election to pack the Supreme Court with six new justices. (A personal plea: Please don’t mention this scheme to Donald Trump.)

Brett Kavanaugh Isn’t Clarence Thomas, but It’s Still About Race
Black and brown kids don’t get their slates wiped clean

Sen. Orrin G. Hatch, left, has urged his colleagues to see past sexual assault allegations and consider who Brett Kavanaugh “is today.” But only certain folks get their slates wiped clean, Curtis writes. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

OPINION — Orrin G. Hatch, the Republican senator from Utah, is nothing if not consistent.

His words about distinguished lawyer and professor Anita Hill in 1991 — when she testified in the Clarence Thomas confirmation hearings before the Judiciary Committee on which he sat — were clear. He said there was “no question” in his mind that she was “coached” by special interest groups. “Her story’s too contrived. It’s so slick it doesn’t compute.” Hatch mused she may have cribbed some of her testimony from the novel “The Exorcist” — the horror!

It Can Take Years for a Lawmaker to Get a Bill Enacted
Candidates freely share ideas for bills they’d like to pass, but then reality sets in

Michigan Rep. Sander M. Levin, who entered Congress in 1983, waited 23 years before getting his first bill passed. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Congressional candidates are crisscrossing the campaign trails with less than two months until the election, pitching voters their ideas for bills to pass. But those who make it to Washington will likely have a long wait before seeing their legislation become law.

Less than a third of the current members of the House had one of their bills signed into law in their first term. The Senate, with fewer members and generally more legislative experience, has a steeper learning curve. Only 12 of the current senators completed or went past their first term with a law to their name.

Capitol Ink | Me Too Senators

McCaskill to Vote ‘No’ on Kavanaugh
Missouri Democrat is one of the Senate’s most vulnerable incumbents

Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., says she will not support Brett Kavanaugh’s nomination to the Supreme Court. (Sarah Silbiger/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Missouri Sen. Claire McCaskill announced Wednesday that she will not support Judge Brett Kavanaugh’s nomination to the Supreme Court. 

In a statement posted on Twitter, the Democrat attributed her decision mostly to the nominee’s positions on “dark, anonymous money that is crushing our democracy.”

Chris Collins to ‘Actively Campaign’ and Serve if Re-Elected
New York Republican made announcement in email to supporters Wednesday

Rep. Chris Collins, R-N.Y., leaves the Capitol Hill Club after a meeting of the House Republican Conference, February 7, 2017. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Indicted Republican Rep. Chris Collins wrote in an email to supporters Wednesday that he would continue to serve in Congress if re-elected. 

The New York Republican had previously suspended his campaign after being indicted on charges of insider trading, but he reversed course Tuesday after GOP leaders attempted for weeks to find a way to remove Collins from the ballot. Local GOP leaders were reportedly blindsided by his decision to remain on the ballot.

Kavanaugh Accuser’s Schoolmate Says Assault Was Chatter at School Afterward
Cristina King Miranda went to all-girls prep school with Christine Blasey Ford

The entrance to the Holton Arms School in Bethesda, Maryland, is shown recently. A classmate of Christine Blasey Ford, who attended the all-girls prep school, backed up her accusation that Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh, who attended the all-boys Georgetown Preparatory School, assaulted her when the two were students. (Win McNamee/Getty Images)

An schoolmate of Christine Blasey Ford, the California psychology professor who has accused Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh of sexually assaulting her when they were in high school, backed Ford’s claim Wednesday in a letter she posted to Facebook.

“Christine Blasey Ford was a year or so behind me, I remember her,” wrote Cristina King Miranda, who graduated a year ahead of Ford at Holton-Arms School in Bethesda, Maryland. Holton-Arms is an all-girls school whose students frequently socialized with Kavanaugh’s all-male alma mater, Georgetown Prep.

Women and Men Disagree on Kavanaugh After Sexual Assault Allegation
Poll finds sharp gender difference in views of Supreme Court nominee

Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh, shown here with his wife Ashley, and daughters Margaret, left, and Liza, has been portrayed as a champion of young women. In the aftermath of a sexual assault allegation, though, women are not so sure, a new poll finds. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

Americans became sharply divided on Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh in the days after a woman came forward accusing him of a drunken sexual assault while they were teenagers, according to a nonpartisan poll released Wednesday.

The fault line fell along gender. Forty percent of male respondents to an Economist/YouGov poll had a somewhat or very favorable opinion of Kavanaugh versus just 26 percent of women.

‘Fort Trump’: How Poland’s President Took Flattery to New Heights
U.S. president utters rare public criticism of Russia after months of GOP unease

President Donald Trump and first lady Melania Trump with Polish President Andrzej Duda and his wife, Agata Kornhauser-Duda, on Tuesday in the Oval Office two hours before Duda proposed building a “Fort Trump” in his country. (Official White House Photo Joyce N. Boghosian via Flickr)

Trump Tower, Trump Hotel, Trump University, Trump ties ... Fort Trump?

Sure — if the president’s Polish counterpart gets his wish.

Grassley Says Monday Hearing Not Likely Without Kavanaugh Accuser
Judiciary Committee chairman doesn’t think Feinstein leaked letter that identified Christine Blasey Ford

Senate Judiciary Chairman Charles E. Grassley, R-Iowa, speaks with ranking member Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., before the start of a hearing in June. He doubts she leaked a letter from Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh's accuser. (Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

Senate Judiciary Chairman Charles E. Grassley said Wednesday a planned Monday hearing on sexual assault allegations against Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh would likely not go on without accuser Christine Blasey Ford.

Asked about Ford saying she wouldn’t appear on Monday, the chairman indicated it would not go on without the accuser present because the nominee would not know the full scope of allegations against him.

GOP Groups Jump Into Nevada’s 3rd District Ahead of Trump Rally
Congressional Leadership Fund reserved new airtime Wednesday

Republican Danny Tarkanian is running for Nevada’s open 3rd District seat, which Democratic Rep. Jacky Rosen is vacating for a Senate run. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Ahead of President Donald Trump’s visit to Nevada on Thursday, outside Republican groups are ramping up their spending in the 3rd District to help GOP nominee Danny Tarkanian in one of the party’s few pickup opportunities. 

The Congressional Leadership Fund, a super PAC aligned with House GOP leadership, made a new ad reservation in the district in the Las Vegas media market that starts Thursday, according to a source with knowledge of the media buy. CLF spokeswoman Courtney Alexander confirmed the $2.5 million reservation to Roll Call. 

FiscalNote’s Wendy Martinez Killed in Logan Circle Stabbing
Police seek suspect caught on video

Wendy Martinez

FiscalNote Chief of Staff Wendy Martinez was killed Tuesday night in a stabbing near Logan Circle, according to the Metropolitan Police Department.

“The entire FiscalNote family is shocked and deeply saddened to learn that Wendy Martinez, our Chief of Staff, was killed last night,” CEO Tim Hwang said in a statement. “Wendy was an invaluable member of our team and a vibrant member of the community. Our thoughts and prayers are with Wendy’s family and friends.”