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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House Schedule for Next Week ‘Fluid and Subject to Change’
Absent deal, partial government funding ends Dec. 21

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., conducts her weekly news conference in the Capitol Visitor Center as Minority Whip Steny H. Hoyer, D-Md., is seen on the House floor via a monitor on December 13, 2018. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy stated the obvious on Thursday when he noted that the chamber’s schedule for next week remains “fluid and subject to change.”

Outside of the big remaining item of business — a deal to extend government funding for nine departments and assorted agencies amid the congressional standoff with President Donald Trump over funding for a border wall — there is a dwindling list of legislative business for the chamber to attend to before the adjourning of the 115th Congress. 

House Republican Leader Invites Democratic Freshmen to Meet With Him
McCarthy sends letter to newly elected Democrats, responding to their message about prioritizing legislation

House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy is seen on the chamber floor via a television monitor as Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi conducts her weekly news conference Thursday. Later that afternoon, McCarthy sent a letter to incoming Democratic freshmen offering to meet with them to foster bipartisan relationships. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

House Republican leader Kevin McCarthy has a message for the newly elected Democrats who swept dozens of his colleagues out of office and his party into the minority: I’ll work with you. 

“When the new Congress is sworn in, we will all bear the ‘solemn responsibility’ of acting on behalf of our fellow citizens, as you wrote in a letter to your party’s leadership earlier this month,” McCarthy wrote in a letter to the incoming Democratic freshmen, obtained by Roll Call. 

At the Races: The Ghost of Midterms Past
Our weekly newsletter on congressional campaigns

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Welcome to At the Races! You can keep track of House and Senate races with this weekly newsletter. We want to hear what you think. Email us at attheraces@cqrollcall.com with your questions, tips or candidate sightings. — Simone Pathé and Bridget Bowman.

This week … Some Republicans started worrying about retirements, Mainers have been recounting ballots faster than expected, and one Pelosi rebel faced a primary threat.

Senate Flexes Congress’ War Powers Authority, For First Time Ever
Resolution would end military assistance to Saudi Arabia over war in Yemen

Sen. Christopher S. Murphy, D-Conn., was one of the sponsors of the resolution to pull U.S. support of the Saudis in Yemen. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

The Senate on Thursday ordered the Pentagon to cease its military involvement on behalf of Saudi Arabia in the Yemeni civil war. It marked the first time since the 1973 passage of the War Powers Act that the Senate has ordered the executive branch to end an unauthorized military campaign.

The Senate passed, 56-41, the joint resolution, as amended, that would direct the president to remove U.S. armed forces from hostilities in or affecting the Republic of Yemen, except forces engaged in operations directed at Al Qaeda or associated forces, within 30 days of the joint resolution’s adoption of the joint resolution, unless and until a declaration of war or specific authorization of such use of force has been enacted.

Search for Third Chief of Staff Down to Five Candidates, Trump Says
Some GOP insiders wonder just who can get along with president for very long

President Donald Trump speaks to the media before boarding Marine One to depart from the White House on Dec. 7. (Mark Wilson/Getty Images)

President Donald Trump has narrowed the search for his third White House chief of staff to five “mostly well known” people, he told reporters Thursday.

“We are interviewing people now for chief of staff,” the president said five days after he announced John Kelly would leave the post at the end of the year. Nick Ayers, Vice President Mike Pence’s chief of staff, turned him down Sunday and is leaving the White House to leave Washington and work for a pro-Trump political action group.

Pelosi Calls Trump’s Oval Office an ‘Evidence-Free Zone’
President’s argument that Mexico will pay for border wall through trade deal ‘doesn’t make any sense,’ she says

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., says President Donald Trump’s assertion that Mexico will pay for a border wall through savings from a revised trade agreement “doesn't make any sense.” (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

After publicly confronting President Donald Trump at the White House two days ago about his frequent citing of false information, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi on Thursday continued to question his grasp of facts. 

“I think the Oval Office is an evidence free zone,” the California Democrat said. “You’ve got to have facts, data, evidence, truth in order to make an agreement on how you go forward.”

Democrats Press Facebook and Mark Zuckerberg to Disclose More About Political Ads
Senators want voluntary disclosures about buyers of politically charged advertising

Democrats want Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg to offer more voluntary disclosure about political ads. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)

A contingent of Senate Democratic Conference members want Facebook to voluntarily disclose more about the sources of advertising dollars on the social media platform.

The group led by New Jersey’s Robert Menendez, highlights in a letter to Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg efforts by Russia to use Facebook to spread political messaging to undermine the U.S. electoral process.

Congress Headed Down Road to Shutdown Nowhere, Top Senate GOP Appropriator Says
Alabama’s Richard Shelby says he thinks a shutdown is all but inevitable

Sen. Richard Shelby, R-Ala., speaks with reporters in the Senate subway on Tuesday, Nov. 27, 2018. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)

A partial government shutdown is all but inevitable, the top Republican on the Senate Appropriations Committee said Thursday.

“It looks like we could be headed down the road to nowhere,” Sen. Richard C. Shelby said. “That’s what it looks like at the moment because we’ve got nine days to go.”

Trump’s Action-Packed Week Previews a Wild Year Ahead
‘They would be impeachable offenses,’ Nadler says of campaign finance violations

President Donald Trump argues about border security with House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., as Vice President Mike Pence sits nearby in the Oval Office on Dec. 11. (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)

ANALYSIS | Democratic hands in Washington spent the 2017 holiday season musing at cocktail parties about how little they would miss Donald Trump's first year in office, only to be shocked by an even more chaotic 2018.

Just wait until they see 2019.

Federal Judge Rejects Poliquin’s Challenge to Ranked-Choice Voting System
Poliquin lost his re-election to Democrat Jared Golden

Rep. Bruce Poliquin, R-Maine, lost his re-election. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

A federal judge in Maine validated the state’s ranked-choice voting law Thursday, which was used for the first time in a federal election in the state’s 2nd District this year. 

U.S. District Court Judge Lance Walker rejected GOP Rep. Bruce Poliquin’s legal challenge to the new system, according to the Portland Press Herald. Walker ruled that the new voting process did not violate the Constitution.

House GOP Tax Package Still In Limbo as Clock Winds Down
Time remaining in 115th Congress does not bode well for proponents

House Ways and Means Chairman Kevin Brady, R-Texas, hopes the chamber can still pass a tax package in the time before the 115th Congress ends. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)

The House is leaving in limbo an $80 billion package of tax breaks as it leaves for the weekend on Thursday, though in theory there’s still time to take up the measure next week before lawmakers leave town for the holidays.

The second time had been shaping up to be the charm for House Ways and Means Chairman Kevin Brady’s now refurbished year-end tax bill, as Republicans appeared to be lining up behind it Wednesday. An earlier version expected on the floor two weeks ago never made it due to objections from rank-and-file Republicans.

Pelosi: ‘Four years? No, I Don’t Think That’s a Lame Duck’
Speaker hopeful says she’s ‘comfortable’ with term limit deal, just didn’t want one-term cap

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., tells reporters after her weekly news conference on Thursday that agreeing to limit her pending speakership to four years does not make her a lame duck. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi doesn’t feel handicapped by the deal she cut Wednesday to limit her pending speakership to no more than two terms. 

“Four years? No, I don’t think that’s a lame duck, no,” the California Democrat said Thursday when asked if she felt she has made herself one by agreeing to the term limit.

Bustos Announces DCCC Senior Staff, With New Female Executive Director
Allison Jaslow will be the committee’s executive director in 2018

Rep. Cheri Bustos, D-Ill., is the new DCCC chairwoman.(Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Rep. Cheri Bustos, the new Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee chairwoman, announced her senior staff hires for the 2020 cycle Thursday. Her campaign manager Allison Jaslow will be the committee’s executive director. 

The DCCC is shifting to defense in 2020 after flipping 40 seats to take over the House. The committee will be tasked with protecting vulnerable new members, including 31 Democrats running for re-election in districts President Donald Trump won in 2016.

Congress Passes Sexual Harassment Bill By Unanimous Consent
Final legislation introduced shortly before both chambers passed it

Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., chairman of the Rules and Administration Committee. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

The House and Senate on Thursday passed new legislation overhauling the process for handling sexual harassment claims on Capitol Hill, one day after the announcement of a joint agreement on the measure. The legislation will head to the White House for President Donald Trump’s signature.

[Read the bill text]

Rep. Kihuen Preps Vegas City Council Run After Sexual Harassment Case Ends Congressional Career
Nevada Democrat’s congressional career cut short after sexual harassment controversy

Rep. Ruben Kihuen, D-Nev., left, is preparing a Las Vegas city council run, according to documents he filed with the IRS this week. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Rep. Ruben Kihuen, who will leave Congress after just one term, is taking steps to run for Las Vegas city council, according to files submitted to the IRS.

A House Ethics subcommittee reported in November that Kihuen, a Nevada Democrat, had sexually harassed women who worked with him.