South Dakota

Five Cabinet Secretaries Face Senate Barrage
Questions range from infrastructure to nuclear waste to the Census

Senate Commerce Chairman John Thune's panel hosted five Cabinet secretaries on Wednesday. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

It’s not every day — or even every decade — that five cabinet secretaries walk in to testify at the same Senate hearing.

And while Wednesday’s Commerce, Science and Transportation hearing generally focused on President Donald Trump’s proposal to rebuild American infrastructure (and doubts about how to pay for it), senators took full advantage of having so many heavy hitters in one room.

Despite Rancor On Tariffs, Senate GOP Rejects Legislative Response
What started off as a war cry has been reduced to a whimper

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell says nullifying tariffs on imported steel and aluminum imposed by the president isn't in the cards for his chamber. Also pictured, from right, South Dakota Sen. John Thune and Wyoming Sen. John Barrasso. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

Senate Republicans, after decrying President Donald Trump’s recently announced tariffs on imported steel and aluminum, have no plans to pursue legislation to block them from going into effect.

“The thought that the president would undo action he’s taken strikes me as remote at best and I’d like to use floor time in the Senate for things that actually have a chance to become law,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell told reporters Tuesday. “I think it’s highly unlikely we’ll be dealing with that in a legislative way.”

Congress Could Split Payments to Broadcasters Over Two Years
Thune, Walden explore compensating spectrum moves over longer period of time

Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., says members are exploring spreading out payments to broadcasters for spectrum moves from one year to two. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Chairman John Thune says authorizers and appropriators are exploring whether to compensate broadcasters for giving up spectrum over two years rather than one, a change that could make it a more palatable item in spending bills.

The South Dakota Republican, who is also chairman of the Senate Republican Conference, and House Energy and Commerce Chairman Greg Walden, R-Ore., are trying to secure about $1 billion to compensate broadcasters for giving up one part of the spectrum and move to another. But appropriators are balking at the sum.

Thune Clears Path for Long-Term Aviation Bill This Summer
Commerce chairman abandons effort to change how pilot hours are counted

Senate Commerce Chairman John Thune is dropping a controversial pilot training provision from the aviation bill. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

South Dakota Sen. John Thune’s decision to drop a controversial provision on pilot training clears a path for lawmakers to complete a long-term aviation reauthorization bill this summer that addresses drones, aircraft certification, safety and other issues.

Thune, the chairman of the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee, said last week he was abandoning his effort to change how pilot hours are counted. That came after House Transportation and Infrastructure Chairman Bill Shuster gave up the week before on spinning off the air traffic control system from the Federal Aviation Administration. Both proposals encountered stiff resistance in Congress.

The Never-Ending Crisis at the Indian Health Service
As the chronically under-funded agency struggles, American Indians are getting sicker and dying sooner

Patients wait at an Indian Health Service clinic on the Standing Rock Reservation in North Dakota. (Will Kincaid/AP)

The health disparities between American Indians and the rest of the United States population are stark. American Indians are 50 percent more likely than others to have a substance use disorder, 60 percent more likely to commit suicide, twice as likely to smoke, twice as likely to die during childbirth, three times more likely to die from diabetes and five times more likely to die from tuberculosis. They die on average five years sooner than other Americans.

The Trump administration has pledged to make tribal health care systems more effective. During one of his confirmation hearings, new Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar told senators the administration would welcome opportunities to improve the $5 billion Indian Health Service, which provides care for 2.2 million American Indians. “It’s unacceptable for us to not be providing high-quality service,” Azar said.

Bipartisan Deal Opens Path to Reauthorizing FCC, Spectrum Sale
Walden, Pallone, Thune, Nelson all party to deal

House Energy and Commerce Chairman Greg Walden, R-Ore., left, and ranking member Frank Pallone Jr., D-N.J., helped make a deal on reauthorizing the FCC and forging a path for spectrum auctions. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Key House and Senate members unveiled a bipartisan agreement Friday on a Federal Communications Commission reauthorization that would provide the agency with more than $330 million annually in fiscal years 2019 and 2020.

The agreement also resolves issues that were slowing spectrum auctions for wireless technology.

Chao, Senate Democrats Spar on Infrastructure Proposal
Transportation secretary says ask the White House about gas tax increase

Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao pushed back on Democrats' criticism about the administration's infrastructure plan, such as it is. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao and Democrats on the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee sparred Thursday over environmental requirements and funding in the president’s infrastructure proposal, jousting over the contents of a plan that top Senate Republicans indicated this week isn’t likely to pass this year.

Chao repeatedly defended the plan from charges by committee Democrats that it would strip environmental protections, saying the administration only wanted to improve the process without sacrificing environmental quality. The administration wants to eliminate duplication and allow relevant agencies to conduct environmental reviews simultaneously rather than sequentially, she said.

GOP Reaction to Trump Tariffs is Fast, Furious and Negative
Republicans fret about retaliatory action, effect on agricultural trade

Sen. Orrin G. Hatch, R-Utah, among the president’s strongest allies in the Senate, warned that imposing tariffs was akin to a tax hike. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Senate Republicans are calling for changes to the seldom-employed section of U.S. trade law that the Trump administration used to unilaterally impose steep new tariffs on steel and aluminum imports.

The conversations are in the preliminary stages, but build upon discussions GOP members have had for weeks regarding concerns over the White House’s trade policy.

When Allies Attack: Friction Between Democrats, Immigration Advocates
Hard feelings about groups pressuring minority party

Demonstrators with United We Dream and others rally in the atrium of the Hart Building in January to call on Congress to pass the so-called DREAM Act to protect young immigrants from deportation. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Friction lingers between Senate Democrats and progressive advocacy groups after the chamber failed to advance a bipartisan bill in February to protect the young undocumented immigrants known as Dreamers. 

Tensions came to a breaking point in the weeks before the Senate voted on several immigration-related proposals aimed at extending the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, aides say. The rift was a long time in the making, as some Democratic lawmakers questioned the strategy that pro-immigration and progressive groups used to drive action over the past six months.

Mike Pence Breaks Another Tie Senate Vote
With veep help, Senate confirms Vought for deputy OMB director slot

Vice President Mike Pence broke another tie Senate vote on Wednesday, his ninth. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Senators voted to confirm Russell Vought as deputy director of the Office of Management and Budget, after Vice President Mike Pence cast the tiebreaking vote Wednesday with the chamber deadlocked at 49-49. It was the ninth time Pence has broken a tie since he took office last January. 

GOP Sens. John McCain of Arizona and Mike Rounds of South Dakota were absent, necessitating Pence’s drive down Pennsylvania Avenue as the Senate split along party lines on the vote.