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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Weekend Work for the Senate? The Bluff That Won’t Go Away
Upon Wednesday return, a quickly defused musing of weekend work

Sen. Maggie Hassan, D-N.H., seen here walking by a nonfunctioning elevator in the basement of the Capitol, and other senators returned from recess on Wednesday and were hit promptly with a threat of weekend work, which fizzled quickly. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

Senators returned to Washington on Wednesday and scarcely had time to head to lunch before their leaders unsheathed the threat of weekend work, an oldie but goodie bluff that was taken off the table before dinner time. 

Returning around noon from a two-week recess that was to stand in for the traditional month-long state work period, the chamber’s official order of business was considering the nominations of two judges to be on the 4th U.S. Circuit of Appeals: First A. Marvin Quattlebaum Jr., then  Julius Ness Richardson. The plan all along has been to confirm those two South Carolinians, then turn to a two bill appropriations package consisting of the Defense and Labor-HHS measures, at some point. 

3 Key Points in Manafort Defense’s Closing Argument
Prosecutors bear the burden of proof in the U.S., Manafort’s lawyers remind jury

Former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort, here in November 2017, faces up to 305 years in prison if the Eastern Virginia jury finds his guilty on all charges. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Paul Manafort’s lawyers presented their final argument Wednesday, defending the former Trump campaign chairman from 18 charges of tax evasion, bank fraud, and bank fraud conspiracy.

Manafort faces up to 305 years in prison if the Eastern Virginia jury finds him guilty on all charges.

Rep. Meng: Amend Constitution to Lower Voting Age to 16
The last constitutional amendment was passed in 1992

Rep. Grace Meng, D-N.Y., announced Wednesday that she’s interested in lowering the voting age to 16. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

New York Democratic Rep. Grace Meng introduced an amendment to the Constitution to lower the nationwide voting age to 16 years old.

The 26th Amendment — passed in 1971 — guarantees the right to vote to eligible citizens who are 18 years old or older, which shifted the voting age down from 21. Meng’s legislation would rewrite the amendment to include 16- and 17-year-olds in federal, state and local elections.

Trump Revokes Former CIA Director John Brennan’s Security Clearance
President is reviewing access to one current and eight former officials

President Donald Trump, here on the Hill in June, has revoked the security clearance of former CIA Director John O. Brennan, citing his “erratic conduct and behavior.” (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

President Donald Trump on Wednesday announced he has revoked the security clearance of former CIA Director John O. Brennan and is reviewing the status for eight other former officials as well as one current official. 

White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders read a statement from Trump on the security clearance reviews at the start of her daily press briefing. 

Hacking an American Election Is Child’s Play, Just Ask These Kids
Amidst election insecurity in Georgia, kids at this year’s DefCon show how easy systems are to hack

Daisy Capote, a Miami-Dade election support specialists, checks voting machines for accuracy at the Miami-Dade Election Department headquarters in Doral, Florida last week in preparation for the state’s primary later this month. (Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

In March, Hawaii Democrat Rep. Tulsi Gabbard introduced the Securing America’s Elections Act to require the use of paper ballots as backup in case of alleged election hacking. Now voting advocates are suing Georgia to do the same thing.

Some voting systems are so easy to hack a child can do it. Eleven year old Emmett Brewer hacked into a simulation of Florida’s state voting website in less than 10 minutes at the DefCon hacking conference last week in Las Vegas, according to Time

Democrats Continue Camera Shy Ways With Brett Kavanaugh
Senate courtesy meetings continue, but with nary a photo op

Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh arrives to meet with Sen. Joe Donnelly, D-Ind., in the Hart Senate Office Building on Wednesday, Aug. 15, 2018. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

Democratic senators have, at least from Republican states, started meeting with Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh, but they are mostly avoiding the press when doing so. 

With senators back in town, meetings with President Donald Trump’s nominee to the Supreme Court resumed Wednesday, with a pair of Democrats on the agenda.

She Has Congress’ Loneliest Job
Puerto Rico’s resident commissioner appeals to colleagues as anniversary of Hurricane Maria approaches

Jenniffer González-Colón, here at an October 2017 news conference on disaster funding, is Puerto Rico’s first female resident commissioner. And that’s not the only reason she stands out in Congress. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

In Congress, you have to know your place. Alliances matter, and traditions are as tough as weeds.

Not that Jenniffer González-Colón, Puerto Rico’s lone voice in Washington, needs reminding.

Report: Former Rohrabacher Opponent Target of Cyberattack
California Democrat Hans Keirstead’s campaign was the target of a phishing attack

Democrat Hans Keirstead was the target of a successful cyberattack. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Former Democratic House candidate Hans Keirstead was the target of a successful cyberattack during his campaign in California’s 48th District against pro-Russia GOP Rep. Dana Rohrabacher

Rolling Stone reported that in August 2017, Keirstead fell for a phishing email that asked him to enter his password for his work email address, which he also used for his campaign. The campaign also reported efforts in December to hack into the campaign’s website and “hosting service,” and an effort in January to hack into the campaign’s Twitter account. Only the phishing attack in August was successful.

Kavanaugh Makes Strategic Stops on His Senate Tour as Chamber Returns
Heitkamp, Donnelly and other swing votes are on his schedule

Sens. Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D., and Joe Donnelly, D-Ind., are among those expected to meet with Trump’s Supreme Court pick. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh will ramp up his behind-the-scenes preparation over the next three weeks for his confirmation hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee, starting with more one-on-one meetings Wednesday with senators whose votes could prove pivotal.

Kavanaugh, who is more used to asking questions from the dais as a judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit for the past 12 years, has been going through mock hearings that last several hours with questions from people assigned to the role of different senators, a White House official said.

Manafort Prosecution Comes Down to Three Key Points
Prosecutors present closing argument in former Trump campaign manager’s tax evasion trial

Kevin Downing, left, attorney for former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort, and members of the defense team arrive at the Albert V. Bryan United States Courthouse on Wednesday as both sides were expected to present their closing arguments. (Win McNamee/Getty Images)

Special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s prosecution team delivered its closing argument in the tax evasion and bank fraud trial of former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort on Wednesday.

Manafort faces a maximum 305-year prison sentence if the Eastern Virginia jury finds him guilty on all 18 charges.

Former Sen. Norm Coleman Says Cancer Has Returned
Cancer has now spread to his lungs

Former Sen. Norm Coleman, R-Minn., announced cancer had spread to his lungs. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Former Sen. Norm Coleman announced his cancer has returned.

The Minnesota Republican said in a social media post that the cancer that began in his neck and throat and is at its most advanced stage, according to the Minneapolis Star Tribune.

Trump Most Effective in Senate Races, Pence Can Focus on House, Lewandowski Says
Great America Committee senior strategist says Pence PAC is cutting checks for GOP congressional candidates

Corey Lewandowski, a former campaign manager for Donald Trump, says the president is most effective stumping for Senate candidates. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

In the final 12-week stretch to the midterms, expect to see President Donald Trump on the trail stumping mostly for GOP Senate candidates and Vice President Mike Pence campaigning for House Republicans, Corey Lewandowski said. 

The former Trump campaign manager and current senior strategist to Pence’s political action committee, the Great America Committee, said the political strategists in Trump’s orbit have determined that’s the best strategy for deploying the GOP’s executive leaders onto the congressional campaign trail. 

Space Force: Trump Drives New Partisan Split Over Old Issue
Democrats and Republicans divided on proposal, new poll says

President Donald Trump’s public embrace of the Space Force has driven a deep partisan divide on the effort, a new poll found. (Sarah Silbiger/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Its cool science-fiction title alone practically oozes nostalgia for the starbound adventures of American astronauts, the spirit of Cold War competition and pride for American dominance in space. So why are most Democrats not on board with the Space Force?

Sixty-nine percent of them disapproved of the White House’s effort to establish a sixth branch of the military focused on defending U.S. interests in space, according to a new poll released Wednesday. And only 12 percent supported it. The reaction from Republicans was almost exactly flipped: 68 percent of Republicans supported the proposal, while only 14 percent opposed it. 

Red-State Democrats Zero In on Opioid Epidemic
Issue could buoy vulnerable incumbents in West Virginia, Missouri

Sens. Claire McCaskill and Joe Manchin III are two vulnerable Democrats looking to highlight their work on opioids. (Sarah Silbiger/CQ Roll Call)

Vulnerable red-state Democrats are highlighting their work to address the opioid crisis in an effort to hold on to their congressional seats, even as it remains unclear whether the Senate will take key action before the midterm elections.

While the opioid epidemic is a priority for much of Congress, candidates in especially hard-hit states, such as West Virginia, have made it a core issue in their re-election bids.

Curbelo Ahead in DCCC Poll of Florida’s 26th District
Survey was conducted before Mucarsel-Powell went on TV

Florida Rep. Carlos Curbelo led his Democratic opponent in a poll commissioned by the independent expenditure arm of the DCCC. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)

A Democratic poll of Florida’s 26th District put GOP Rep. Carlos Curbelo ahead of Democrat Debbie Mucarsel-Powell by 7 points. 

The poll, conducted for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee’s independent expenditure arm, had Curbelo at 48 percent and Mucarsel-Powell at 41 percent.