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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Capitol Ink | Remembering Barbara Bush

CIA Releases Report Finding Haspel Not at Fault in Destruction of Torture Tapes
But some key Senate Democrats now want more answers

Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., talks with reporters after the Senate Policy luncheons in the Capitol on March 20, 2018. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

The Central Intelligence Agency released an unclassified but partially redacted version of an internal memo Friday finding “no fault” on the part of current director nominee Gina Haspel regarding the destruction of infamous tapes.

The tapes showed the use of harsh interrogation tactics on detainees who had been subject to rendition at so-called “black sites.” Clarity about Haspel’s involvement is one key to the deputy director’s chances for Senate confirmation to be the director.

Trump, French President Macron to Disagree Privately, Official Says
French president visits next week for first state visit of Trump presidency

French President Emmanuel Macron welcomes President Donald Trump prior to a meeting at the Elysee Presidential Palace on July 13, 2017 in Paris, France. (Thierry Chesnot/Getty Images)

There will be ample smiles and handshakes for the camera, but don’t expect the U.S. and French heads of state to agree on much behind closed doors when they meet next week in Washington.

A number of contentious issues — from the Iran nuclear deal to U.S. steel and aluminum tariffs to Syria — will be on the agenda next week when President Donald Trump hosts French President Emmanuel Macron for a visit that largely will be symbolic.

Analysis: For Trump, Wins and Losses During Abe Summit
‘The body language on trade was just really startling,’ expert says

President Donald Trump and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe at a news conference at the former’s West Palm Beach, Fla., resort. (Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

White House aides set a low bar for their boss ahead of his two-day summit with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe — and President Donald Trump often cleared it with ease. But experts say there were a few stumbles too.

Trump aides made clear they had no “deliverables” in mind ahead of the Tuesday-Wednesday talks, which touched on everything from a new round of trade talks to dealing with North Korea to their respective golf games. That diplomat-speak refers to agreements or other things the White House wants meetings with world leaders to produce.

DNC Files Lawsuit against Trump, Russia and WikiLeaks for 2016 election
Trump campaign and associates conspired to disrupt election, lawsuit claims

President Donald Trump, first lady Melania Trump, Vice President Mike Pence and second lady Karen Pence, attend a ceremony in the Capitol Rotunda as the late Rev. Billy Graham lies in honor. The DNC filed a lawsuit against the Trump campaign for working with the Russian government and WikiLeaks to undermine the 2016 election. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

The Democratic National Committee filed a federal lawsuit against the Trump campaign, the Russian government, Wikileaks and other close associates alleging a massive conspiracy to undermine the 2016 U.S. presidential election and help now-President Donald Trump win.

The lawsuit, filed in Manhattan, says that the Trump campaign worked with the Russian government and its spy agencies to collude against Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton by hacking the Democratic Party’s computer networks and leaking the stolen information.

Photos of the Week: House Heads Out Early, Senate Welcomes a Baby
The week of April 16 as captured by Roll Call’s photographers

House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., walks up the House steps as he arrives at the Capitol for the final votes of the week Wednesday. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

House members scrambled out of town on Wednesday this week  — a day earlier than originally scheduled. And on Thursday the Senate made history by welcoming an infant onto the chamber’s floor. Sen. Tammy Duckworth gave birth on April 9, and the rules were changed to accommodate the new mom.

Arizona Teachers Latest to Walk Out, Members Supportive
Grand Canyon State ramps up protest, lawmakers react across U.S.

Rep. Raúl Grijalva, D-Ariz., speaks with Roll Call in his office in the Longworth Building. Grijalva said he supports Arizona teachers in the fight for better education funding, as teachers voted on a Friday walkout. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Arizona teachers voted Thursday night to join their counterparts in states such as West Virginia and Kentucky protesting wage and benefit cuts.

Teachers in the state voted through the Arizona Education Association to participate in a statewide walkout Friday to fight for better pay and school funding.

Texas Governor Wants ‘Emergency’ Special Election for Farenthold’s Seat
Special election must wait until Nov. 6 midterm under current rules

Rep. Blake Farenthold, R-Texas, resigned earlier in April amid an Ethics Committee investigation into claims of sexual harassment and a hostile work environment within his congressional office. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott wants to have a special election to replace former GOP Rep. Blake Farenthold as soon as possible, and he’s asking whether he can suspend certain election laws to do so.

Abbott sent a letter Thursday to Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton outlining his desire to hold a special election soon and asking what laws he could bypass to speed up the process.

Complaint Against Crapo Over Controversial Condo
Liberal watchdog group says Idaho senator didn’t report free use of condo that caused controversy for EPA’s Pruitt

Sen. Mike Crapo, R-Idaho, had a complaint filed against him by a liberal watchdog group. (Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

A liberal watchdog group filed a complaint with the Federal Election Commission against Sen. Mike Crapo for fundraisers he held at the same condominium that caused controversy for EPA administrator Scott Pruitt.

The Campaign for Accountability filed the complaint on Thursday that Crapo’s campaign committees did not report paying for the use of the condo on campaign filings, Bloomberg reported.

Schumer’s 4/20 Surprise
Senate minority leader announced plans for marijuana decriminalization legislation in TV interview

Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer now supports decriminalizing marijuana. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer is the latest senior Democrat to call for decriminalizing marijuana at the federal level.

Schumer also said that he would support legalization in his home state of New York, in a well-timed interview with VICE News which aired Thursday night.

O’Rourke Jumps on Ridicule of Cruz’s Trump Essay
Democratic challenger takes issue with Cruz saying Trump’s presidency has been ‘fun to watch’

Rep. Beto O’Rourke, D-Texas, walks up the House steps for final votes of the week in the Capitol on March 8. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Sen. Ted Cruz’s Democratic challenger Rep. Beto O’Rourke jumped on the pile of scorn heaped on Cruz for his fawning essay praising President Donald Trump.

Cruz wrote a piece for Time Magazine’s list of the 100 Most Influential People of 2018 in which he calls Trump “a flash-bang grenade thrown into Washington by the forgotten men and women of America.”

Lankford: Best to Let Russia Investigation Run Its Course
“The best politics would be do the right thing,” says Lankford

Sen. James Lankford is not in favor of the legislation to protect the special counsel. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)

A Republican member of the Senate Intelligence Committee is reiterating his advice that President Donald Trump should let Special Counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s investigation run its course.

Sen. James Lankford said in an interview taped Thursday that the best strategy will be to let the chips fall where they may, citing the example of how the firing of FBI Director James Comey precipitated an expansion of the investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential race, rather than cut it off.

Trump Continues Attack on Comey, Again Defends Flynn
President lashes out after leaks of fired FBI director’s memos about him

Then-FBI director James B. Comey testifyies before a Senate panel in 2015. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)

President Donald Trump on Friday defended former national security adviser Michael Flynn and slammed former FBI Director James B. Comey, implying his own Justice Department should have blocked publication of the latter’s memoir.

The Friday morning tweet followed several from Thursday evening ripping into Comey as the former FBI boss continues a book tour that already has seen him describe the president as a habitual liar who is “morally unfit” for the Oval Office. Comey also has said Russia might have the ability to blackmail Trump, called for the president to be voted out in 2020, and left open the possibility that Trump is guilty of obstructing justice.

Heritage Action Poised for Transition Amid CEO’s Exit
Michael Needham is leaving to become Sen. Marco Rubio’s chief of staff

Heritage Action produces an annual scorecard on how lawmakers voted on issues important to conservatives. (Screenshot/Heritage Action for America)

Change is coming to Heritage Action for America, the political arm of one of the nation’s best known, and often controversial, think tanks.

Heritage Action for America has boosted its presence on Capitol Hill during CEO Michael Needham’s tenure, and his upcoming departure from the conservative outfit has fueled speculation about whether the uptick in advocacy will continue.

Opinion: We Can’t Afford Not to Pay Interns
This issue is too important to ignore, Sen. Chris Van Hollen writes

Sen. Chris Van Hollen, D-Md., who represents much of the D.C. suburbs, says the city is one of the most expenses places to lives in the country. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Capitol Hill interns have been an institution within an institution since I first worked for Congress in the late 1980s — and long before. From answering phones, to helping constituents, to legislative research, they are a vital part of any congressional office. I know my team could not function without them, and we are thankful for their tireless work.

But our thanks aren’t enough — we need to provide compensation for these hardworking young people.