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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White House: ‘No’ Chance Ivanka Trump Meets With North Korean Officials
President’s daughter is leading U.S. delegation to Winter Olympics closing ceremony

Ivanka Trump at a State Department ceremony last June. She is leading the official U.S. delegation to the Pyeongchang Games’ closing ceremony. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)

Ivanka Trump is not expected to meet with any North Korean officials later this week when she leads the White House’s official delegation to the closing ceremony for the Winter Olympic Games.

Asked if the president’s daughter and senior adviser could meet with North Korean officials while in Pyeongchang, South Korea, a senior official replied, “No.”

The Huntington to Hollywood Heroin(e) Connection
Political Theater, Episode 7

Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., and his guest Jan Rader, Fire Chief of Huntington, W.Va., before last month’s State of the Union address. Rader, subject of an Academy Award-nominated documentary, will be in Hollywood next month for the Oscars ceremony (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Welcome back to Political Theater, Roll Call’s newsletter and podcast on the spectacle of politics and how it fits, or doesn’t, into the nation’s culture. Subscribe to our weekly newsletter here.

Fire Chief Jan Rader has had quite a few months. The first woman to head up Huntington, W.Va.’s fire department, Rader and two other women from her community on the front lines of responding to the opioid epidemic — drug court judge Patricia Keller and Necia Freeman of Brown Bag Ministry — became the subjects of filmmaker Elaine McMillion’s documentary “Heroin(e).”

D.C. Area Students Skip School to Push Gun Legislation
Hundreds marched from the Capitol to the White House to demand action

Students calling for Congress to act on gun control demonstrate on the East Lawn of the Capitol (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

D.C. area students marched from the Capitol to the White House on Wednesday to tell lawmakers, especially President Donald Trump, they have a voice that needs to be heard.

Hundreds of students arrived at 11 a.m. off the Capitol steps, backpacks on shoulders and signs in hands, to stand in solidarity with their fellow students who were shot at on Valentines’ Day in Parkland, Florida. Students in Florida and throughout the country marched out of their classrooms and took to the streets to demand action on gun legislation.

Man Admits He Threatened to Kill Rep. Katko for Opposing Net Neutrality
Faces up to five years in prison

A man pleaded guilty this week to threatening to kill Rep. John Katko, R-N.Y., and his family if he did not support net neutrality. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)

A Syracuse man admitted he threatened to kill Rep. John Katko and his family if Katko did not support net neutrality, the U.S. Attorney’s Office announced Tuesday.

Patrick D. Angelo, 29, pleaded guilty to interstate communication of a threat. He faces a maximum five years in prison and $250,000 fine.

Democratic Leaders Request FBI Funding to Stop Russian Influence in Midterms
Also call for release of public report

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, right, and Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer make their way to the Senate floor. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Key Democratic lawmakers urged Republican leadership Wednesday to include additional FBI funding in the fiscal 2018 spending bill to combat possible Russian interference in the upcoming midterm elections.

The request comes after the Justice Department charged 13 Russian nationals and three Russian companies Friday over alleged attempts to interfere with the 2016 presidential election.

Pence: Give Police, Families Tools for Mentally Disturbed
VP vows massive job creation via beefed-up space program

Rep. Donald S. Beyer Jr., D-Va., speaks with D.C.-area students and supporters as they hold a protest against gun violence with a lie-in outside of the White House on Monday. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

The Trump administration intends to give law enforcement and families the “tools they need to deal with” people who have health issues that might drive them to commit violent acts like mass shootings, Vice President Mike Pence said Wednesday.

As during similar remarks late last week, however, the vice president did not specify how much that might cost or whether the administration will seek emergency funds or push Congress to include the required monies in fiscal 2018 and 2019 spending measures.

Kristi Noem to NRA: If Dallas Burns You, Come to South Dakota
Dallas city official concerned about marches, protests against pro-gun group

Rep. Kristi Noem, R-S.D., said she would welcome the NRA to her home state to hold its annual convention. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Rep. Kristi Noem of South Dakota would be thrilled if the National Rifle Association moved its convention from Dallas to somewhere in her home state.

The gun lobbying giant and political machine plans to hold its annual convention in Dallas in May. Mayor Pro Tem Dwaine Caraway has expressed concern over the NRA’s presence in a city that saw five police officers slain by a sniper in 2016 and bore witness to President John F. Kennedy’s assassination in 1963.

Trump Wants Russia Investigation to Look at Obama White House
President appears to shift messaging on Mueller investigation

President Donald Trump on Wednesday asked why the Obama administration isn’t under investigation since Russian meddling in U.S. elections happened on his watch. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

President Donald Trump is suggesting that special counsel Robert S. Mueller III should expand his probe of Russia’s election meddling to include top Obama administration officials.

Trump’s veiled suggestion that former President Barack Obama and his team be investigated instead of him and his campaign advisers is part of a shift in the president’s messaging in recent days.

Candidate for Franks’ Seat Denies Receiving Topless Photos
Steve Montenegro faces scandal in race to replace disgraced Arizona congressman

Arizona congressional candidate Steve Montenegro calls a report that he received topless photos from a legislative staffer “tabloid trash.” (SteveMontenegro.com)

Republican congressional candidate Steve Montenegro, who is running to replace disgraced Arizona Rep. Trent Franks, is facing his own scandal a week before next Tuesday’s primary.

Montenegro, who resigned his state Senate seat to run for the House post, received topless photos from a legislative staffer, according to a series of text messages that were reviewed and reported by KPNX in Phoenix.

Coffman Gets Booed Over Guns at Town Hall Meeting
Criticized for votes on concealed carry and mental health restrictions

Rep. Mike Coffman, R-Colo., was criticized about gun legislation at a town hall in his home district. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Republican Rep. Mike Coffman was criticized at a town hall event in Greenwood Village, Colorado, for not taking action on guns. 

Coffman, a perennial target for Democrats, was booed when he said “reasonable restrictions within the parameters of the Second Amendment,” The Associated Press reported.

New Pennsylvania Map, New Pennsylvania House Ratings
Six races shift in Democrats’ direction, two in GOP’s favor

Under the new lines, Pennsylvania Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick’s district shifted from one carried narrowly by President Donald Trump to one carried narrowly by Hillary Clinton. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

If you’ve been wondering what political handicapping is like in a redistricting cycle — or it’s been long enough for you to forget — the Pennsylvania Supreme Court offered a good reminder.

With newly drawn districts, misplaced incumbents and new district numbers, confusion is inevitable. But the bottom line for Pennsylvania is that Democrats had a half-dozen takeover opportunities with the old map and they have a half-dozen takeover opportunities with the new map, although they have a distinctly better chance at gaining those seats.

Trent Franks Still a Factor in Arizona Race to Replace Him
Republican primary to replace the former congressman is Feb. 27

Arizona Rep. Trent Franks resigned in December amid allegations of sexual harassment. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Rep. Trent Franks resigned amid allegations of sexual harassment. But that hasn’t stopped him from being a factor in the race for his seat.

Republican strategists say the former congressman is still well-liked among GOP voters in Arizona’s 8th District, which could explain why he hasn’t disappeared from the race to replace him. Franks appeared briefly in an ad for one of the candidates as voters head to the polls next Tuesday in the primary election to replace him.

Spotlight on House After Senate Failure to Pass DACA Fix
White House puts pressure on House Republicans to advance conservative bill

Speaker Paul D. Ryan has said the House will only take up an immigration bill if it has President Donald Trump’s support. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

The Senate’s failure to advance immigration legislation last week took some pressure off House Republican leaders whose members wanted to ensure their chamber would offer a conservative counterproposal rather than just accept whatever the Senate produced.

But the White House — blamed by Democrats for killing a bipartisan Senate measure they believe could have cleared a 60-vote threshold without administration interference — is trying to keep the heat on the House.

Analysis: Running Against Pelosi May Not Save the GOP This Year
Tried-and-true strategy unlikely to move the needle much in November

The Republican strategy to keep the House in 2018 includes running against House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi. But that may not move the political needle much, Rothenberg writes. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)

It is no secret that the Republican strategy to keep the House in 2018 includes running against Democratic House Leader Nancy Pelosi.

Both the National Republican Congressional Committee and the Congressional Leadership Fund super PAC have run television ads during special elections this cycle linking Democratic nominees to Pelosi, and GOP strategists are gleeful when they talk about the Democratic leader’s baggage and their intention to use her in their TV ads.

NFL Player’s Drive for Social Justice Takes Him to the Hill
Thomas spearheading alliance between ‘athlete activists’ and politicians

Miami Dolphins safety Michael Thomas poses for photos on the House steps at the Capitol last week during his four-day externship arranged by the NFL Players Association. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

On the Friday before the first Sunday of the 2016 NFL season, the entire Miami Dolphins team gathered on the field after practice in Seattle.

No coaches. No trainers. No front-office staff. It was a players-only meeting.