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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Anti-Pork Senators Warn of Potential Return of Earmarks
Flake, McCaskill and company again call for action on legislation to formally ban practice

Sens. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., and Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., held an event in January to demonstrate that Congress can “eat pork without spending it.” (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

A bipartisan group of senators critical of pork-barrel spending is again warning about the possible return of congressional earmarks.

The contingent of persistent critics of the earmarking process warned about talk of the return of the practice in a letter to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer of New York, Appropriations Chairman Richard C. Shelby of Alabama and Vice Chairman Patrick J. Leahy of Vermont.

Trump Backpedals on Timing of Vague Tax Cut Proposal
Lawmakers, staff still not clear on what exactly president was talking about

President Donald Trump is walking back his comments about timing on a vague tax cut proposal he mentioned over the weekend. (Sarah Silbiger/CQ Roll Call file photo)

President Donald Trump said any vote on a new tax overhaul bill he floated this weekend would come “after the election,” saying a “resolution” would be introduced in the next two weeks.

Trump’s remarks amounted to a presidential clarification of his own vague comments on Saturday, when he told reporters Republicans are “looking at putting in a very major tax cut for middle-income people.”

Trump Still ‘Not Satisfied’ With Saudi Story on Khashoggi
‘We’ll see what happens,’ the president says as he prepares to stump for onetime archrival Cruz

President Donald Trump has remained evasive on the killing of a Saudi journalist. (Sarah Silbiger/CQ Roll Call file photo)

President Donald Trump says he is still “not satisfied” with the Saudi Arabian government’s explanation of what led to the death of Washington journalist Jamal Khashoggi, who was killed inside a Saudi consulate in Turkey.

Republican and Democratic lawmakers are calling on Trump to punish the Saudi royal family for coaxing the self-exiled Saudi citizen to the Istanbul facility and allegedly killing him before dismembering his corpse.

Democrats Seize on Trump Administration’s Latest Obamacare Move
New administration proposal will lead to more ‘junk’ health plans, minority party says

Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer says Republicans “are once again undermining protections for people with pre-existing conditions.” (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Senate Democrats have seized on a Trump administration proposal to loosen restrictions on some health insurance offerings as the latest way to attack Republicans over protecting people with pre-existing conditions.

“The American people should look at what Republicans are doing, rather than what they’re saying, when it comes to health care. Just weeks before the election, Republicans are once again undermining protections for people with pre-existing conditions and sabotaging our health care system,” Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer said in a statement.

GOP Congressman Floats Passing Border Wall Funding Through Budget Reconciliation
Process would allow for simple-majority vote in the Senate, but both chambers would need to pass a budget first

Rep. Bradley Byrne, R-Ala., says his legislation aims to prevent Democrats from continuing to “block our efforts to build a wall along our southern border.” (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Alabama Republican Rep. Bradley Byrne announced Monday that he has introduced legislation to use the budget reconciliation process to provide for up to $25 billion for President Donald Trump to construct his border wall before the end of his first term.

The bill, co-sponsored by 15 House Republicans, would allow the GOP to pass wall funding with a simple-majority vote in the Senate by using the reconciliation process — if the measure can withstand a “Byrd bath,” the scrubbing of the bill for violations of the Senate’s reconciliation rules. 

Scenes From Early Voting in Nevada
Nevada Democrats make a big push for the crucial early vote

Supporters of Rep. Jacky Rosen, the Democratic Senate nominee in Nevada, wave signs Friday outside KLAS-TV in Las Vegas before the debate between Rosen and GOP Sen. Dean Heller. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

Nevada, where early voting began Saturday, is the scene of one of the most contested Senate races this cycle — the only one where a Republican incumbent is defending a seat in a state that Hillary Clinton won in 2016.

Democrats in the Silver State are working hard to on the Latino vote — bolstered by an energetic get-out-the-early-vote effort from the powerful Culinary Worker Union Local 226.

Pelosi Suggests 2020 Outcome Will Help Her Decide Whether to Stay in Congress
Democratic leader was prepared to retire if Clinton won in 2016, stayed on because of Trump

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., suggested Monday that the outcome of the 2020 presidential election will factor into her decision on how long to stay in Congress. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, who hopes to be speaker next year if Democrats win a chamber majority, suggested Monday that the outcome of the 2020 presidential election would factor into her decision on how long to stay in Congress. 

The 78-year-old California Democrat has long signaled that she sees her congressional career coming to an end in the not-so-distant future.

Majority of Republicans Want Legal Marijuana, Poll Shows
Gallup poll finds nearly two-thirds of Americans support legalization of pot, a record high

A marijuana user blows smoke in April in San Francisco, California. More than half of Republicans support legalization, according to the latest Gallup poll. (Justin Sullivan/Getty Images file photo)

Almost two-thirds of Americans think marijuana should be legal, according to a Gallup poll released Monday

That represents the highest number in the nearly 50 years since the polling organization began asking about the issue, according to a press release. 

National Republicans Boosting Karen Handel in Georgia’s 6th District
NRCC going up with $1.4M in TV ads on Atlanta broadcast

Rep. Karen Handel, R-Ga., is running for her first full term in Georgia’s 6th District. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)

The campaign arm of House Republicans is investing more than a million dollars in Georgia’s 6th District, which was home to the most expensive House election in history last year. 

The National Republican Campaign Committee has made a $1.4 million TV buy on Atlanta broadcast, set to begin this week. It’s the first outside spending from one of the party committees in a race that has thus far looked safer for Republicans than it did in 2017 during its high-profile special election. 

A Democratic Majority Could Milk Trump’s Trade Pact
‘The bar for supporting a new NAFTA will be high,’ says top Democrat on Ways and Means

Rep. Richard Neal, a Ways and Means Committee member since 1993 and now the panel’s top Democrat, voted against NAFTA and says he will scrutinize the proposed replacement. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

The Trump administration included provisions in the new trade deal with Canada and Mexico to win Democratic support, but if the midterm elections hand Democrats the majority in either the House or Senate, the path forward for the revised agreement may be more complicated.

President Donald Trump is expected to sign the agreement in principle on Nov. 30 and send implementing legislation to Congress sometime later. Trump also notified Congress on Tuesday that his administration plans to launch trade negotiations with the European Union, Japan and the United Kingdom in 2019.

Kushner, Pelosi Discuss MBS, Journalist Khashoggi’s Death Amid Uproar
Administration has ‘eyes wide open’ but seeks to maintain relations, Kushner says

Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman is in the spotlight after the killing of a Saudi journalist. (Leon Neal/Getty Images file photo)

The Trump administration has “its eyes wide open” about what happened to a dead Washington Post columnist who was killed inside a Saudi diplomatic facility in Turkey, White House adviser Jared Kushner said Monday.

President Donald Trump’s son-in-law also said he personally told Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman to “just to be transparent” about allegations his government ordered Saudi-born and self-exiled journalist Jamal Khashoggi killed inside its Istanbul consulate.

Bill Nelson Captures 50 Percent in Prominent Poll, GOP Calls Shenanigans
Survey could be outlier or reflect Democratic enthusiasm surge, CNN says

Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., speaks with reporters in the Senate subway as he arrives in the Capitol for in September 2016. (Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Sen. Bill Nelson captured 50 percent to Republican challenger Gov. Rick Scott’s 45 percent of likely voters surveyed in a new poll — a wider lead for the Florida Democrat than prior studies showed. 

Inside Elections with Nathan L. Gonzales rates the race a Toss-up.

Women, Minorities Overwhelmingly Want a Democratic Congress, Poll Finds
Voter enthusiasm up in both parties

Protesters cross Constitution Avenue in Washington on Saturday, Jan. 20, 2018, as they arrive for the Women’s March one year after the inauguration of President Donald Trump. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)

A new poll shows just how important turnout among certain groups of voters will be in determining whether Democrats take control of Congress after the midterm elections or if Republicans retain a majority.

By huge double-digit margins, African-Americans, Latinos, white women with college degrees, and young voters all prefer Democrats to win on Nov. 6, according to a new poll from NBC News and the Wall Street Journal.

This Former GOP Rep Says Nothing Wrong With Confronting Politicians in Public
‘It is who we are as Americans,’ ex-Florida rep says

Rep. David Jolly, R-Fla., attends a House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on the Western Hemisphere hearing in Rayburn Building, October 1, 2014. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Former Florida Republican Rep. David Jolly has no problem with Americans confronting their elected officials in public.

In fact, he thinks they should do it more.

Trump Claims Migrant Caravan in Mexico Has ‘Unknown Middle Easterners’
President threatens to end U.S. aid to Central American countries

A boy and father from Honduras are taken into custody by U.S. Border Patrol agents near the U.S.-Mexico Border on June 12 near Mission, Texas. A caravan of other migrants largely from that country is heading for the U.S.-Mexico border. (John Moore/Getty Images)

Without offering evidence to support the claim, President Donald Trump on Monday contended a large caravan of Central American migrants also includes “unknown Middle Easterners.”

He also threatened to end foreign aid to countries from which most members of the caravan come. That list includes Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador. Trump has proposed foreign aid cuts before, only to have Republican and Democratic lawmakers reject them and allocate the funds via massive spending bills Trump was forced to sign to avert more government shutdowns on his watch.