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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Goodlatte Announces Plans to Subpoena McCabe Memos
Memos allegedly chronicle conversations by Rod Rosenstein on the president

House Judiciary Chairman Robert W. Goodlatte, R-Va., said Tuesday he expects to issue a subpoena for memos written by former acting FBI Director Andrew McCabe in two days. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

Updated 8:34 p.m. | House Judiciary Chairman Robert W. Goodlatte told reporters Tuesday evening that he plans to subpoena the Justice Department for memos Andrew McCabe wrote during his tenure as acting FBI director. The memos allegedly chronicle conversations in which Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein discussed secretly recording President Donald Trump and invoking the 25th Amendment to remove him from office.

“I had my consultation with the Democrats so that we can issue the subpoena now in two days,” the Virginia Republican said.

Judiciary Committee Scheduled to Vote Friday on Kavanaugh’s Supreme Court Nomination
Would be less than 24 hours after hearing testimony from judge, accuser Christine Blasey Ford

A Judiciary Committee vote on the nomination of Brett Kavanaugh could come on Friday morning. (Sarah Silbiger/CQ Roll Call file photo)

The Senate Judiciary Committee has scheduled a vote on the Supreme Court nomination of Brett Kavanaugh for 9:30 a.m. on Friday.

If the schedule holds, it means senators serving on the committee will be voting less than 24 hours after hearing testimony from Christine Blasey Ford, who was the first woman to come forward with a sexual assault allegation against Kavanaugh.

Laughing Matter: Trump’s Second Day at UN Is a Wild Ride
World leaders laugh at U.S. president. He later lashes out at Kavanaugh accuser

President Donald Trump attends a United Nations meeting on the global drug problem in New York on Monday. World leaders responded to his boasts about achievements Tuesday with several rounds of laughter. (Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

World leaders, in a stunning and awkward rebuke, laughed at President Donald Trump on Tuesday. He responded by lashing out at one of the women who has accused Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh of sexual assault when both were in high school.  

Trump began what was billed by his top aides as a major foreign policy address targeting Iran and setting the stage for new talks with North Korea by touting what he sees as top domestic accomplishments. The United Nations General Assembly hall in New York seemed a strange place for what has become a campaign-trail applause line in front of his “Make America Great Again” gear-sporting supporters. And the world leaders there to hear his message agreed.

Members’ Dining Room Sheds Exclusivity, Welcomes Staffers
Further changes might be in store for the storied eatery

The painting and quote in the hallway where the previously members-only dining room is located on the House side. Starting on Tuesday, staff were welcomed in. (Maureen Keating/CQ Roll Call file photo)

The Members’ Dining Room in the House is getting much less exclusive. Starting Tuesday, the eatery is now open to Capitol Hill staff, not just House members and their guests.

“Beginning today … the [Bennett] Room of the Members’ Dining Room will open to all congressional staff. This includes employees of the House, Senate, Architect of the Capitol, Congressional Budget Office, and Library of Congress,” House Chief Administrative Officer Philip Kiko wrote in a letter.

GOP Mum on ‘Sex Crimes Prosecutor’ for Kavanaugh Hearing
Outside counsel remained an enigma just days before she will question Supreme Court nominee and accuser

Protesters on Capitol Hill show their support for Dr. Christine Blasey Ford, who alleges Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh assaulted her. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

As an extraordinary Senate hearing closes in, Republicans are keeping mum on who will question Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh and a woman who accuses him of sexual assault.

And they cranked up the pressure by scheduling a committee vote on Kavanaugh’s nomination for Friday, less than 24 hours after the pair will testify.

Senate GOP Effort to Rebuke Trump on Trade Has Died a Quiet Death
Effort to assert tariff authority not included in FAA reauthorization bill

Sen. Bob Corker has little hope for his trade legislation. (Sarah Silbiger/CQ Roll Call)

Sen. Bob Corker appears resigned to the fact that the Senate won’t be acting to rebut President Donald Trump on trade policy before voters go to the polls in November.

The Tennessee Republican had previously talked up the possibility of attaching legislation drafted with Pennsylvania GOP Sen. Patrick J. Toomey to a must-pass reauthorization of the Federal Aviation Administration.

China Will Close Artificial Intelligence Gap by End of 2018, Lawmakers Warn
More spending on self-driving car research, predictive technology, will help U.S. compete, new report says

Rep. Will Hurd, R-Texas, released a report encouraging  Congress to increase spending on artificial intelligence technology. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Artificial intelligence technologies are capable of disrupting every aspect of society and the United States must do more to maintain leadership in the area, the leaders of a House panel said in a report released Tuesday.

Artificial intelligence “has the potential to disrupt every sector of society in both anticipated and unanticipated ways,” according to a report authored by Reps. Will Hurd of Texas and Robin Kelly of Illinois, the chairman and top Democrat of the House Oversight and Government Reform subcommittee on information technology. “In light of that potential for disruption, it’s critical that the federal government address the different challenges posed by AI, including its current and future applications.”

Poll: Challenger Spanberger Inches Ahead of Rep. Dave Brat
Democrat takes lead after GOP-aligned group releases her unredacted security clearance info

Republican Rep. Dave Brat is in a tight race with Democrat Abigail Spanberger in Virginia's 7th District. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

The race for Rep. Dave Brat’s bid for a third term in Virginia’s 7th District appears to be tightening, according to a new Monmouth University poll that shows the conservative House Freedom Caucus member trailing former CIA officer Abigail Spanberger by 5 points.

Spanberger captured support from 47 percent of the 400 potential voters pollsters surveyed by phone from Sept. 15 through Sept. 24. Brat garnered 42 percent support among potential voters — which the Monmouth poll characterizes as voters who have participated in at least one election since 2010 or have newly registered to vote (a group that represents roughly nine in 10 of all registered voters in the district).

Mel Watt Accuser to Testify Before House Panel
Appearance comes same day as Kavanaugh-Ford hearing over in the Senate

House Financial Services Chairman Jeb Hensarling, R-Texas, and ranking member Maxine Waters, D-Calif., left, might hear testimony from a woman who has accused former Rep. Mel Watt, who runs the Federal Housing Finance Agency, of sexual harassment. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

The House Financial Services Committee will hear testimony Thursday from a Federal Housing Finance Agency employee who has accused former Rep. Mel Watt, D-N.C, the agency’s director, of sexual harassment, the same day Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh and Christine Blasey Ford, who has accused the judge of sexual assault, are scheduled to testify before the Senate Judiciary Committee.

The Financial Services panel had already scheduled an FHFA oversight hearing for Thursday, where Watt is among the invited witnesses. Watt’s accuser, Simone Grimes, requested to testify at the hearing, according to a letter ranking member Maxine Waters, D-Calif., sent Monday to Chairman Jeb Hensarling, R-Texas, asking he allow Grimes to do so.

Former Rep. John Dingell Released from Hospital
Doctors and nurses had ‘heard all of John’s stories and decided it was time,’ his wife says

Rep. Debbie Dingell's office shared a photograph of former Rep. John Dingell getting discharged. (Courtesy of Dingell)

Former Rep. John Dingell has been released from the hospital following a heart attack last week. His wife, Rep. Debbie Dingell, D-Mich., joked that it was because the nurses and doctors had “heard all of John’s stories and decided it was time.”

The congresswoman thanked Henry Ford Hospital in a statement on Tuesday for her 92 year old husband’s care following his heart attack Sept. 17.

These Farm Programs Will Turn Into Pumpkins Sunday If Congress Doesn’t Act
Top negotiator on farm bill doesn’t want extension that could keep them afloat

Work requirements for SNAP recipients have been a sticking point as lawmakers try to reach a deal on the farm bill. (Christopher Furlong/Getty Images file photo)

Dozens of programs for military veterans turned farmers, small rural businesses and expanding foreign markets for agriculture will end Sunday if lawmakers do not extend the expiring 2014 farm bill.

Senate Agriculture Chairman Pat Roberts of Kansas said Monday that “it’ll be a tall order” to get a replacement for the current law completed and enacted before the midterm elections in November.

Mixed Messages: Trump Offers Platitudes, Warnings on Iran at UN
President says Rouhani is a ‘lovely man’ and ‘sows death and destruction’

President Donald Trump addresses the United Nations General Assembly on Tuesday. He spent much of Tuesday sending mixed signals to Iranian leaders. (Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

President Donald Trump’s second day at a United Nations conference in New York began with mixed signals from the U.S. diplomat-in-chief on Iran — including platitudes and warnings.

Trump’s second address to the UN General Assembly featured plenty of vintage moments, with tough rhetoric for friends and foes alike. His message for North Korea was one of partnership a year after he declared its leader, Kim Jong Un, was on a “suicide mission.” He threatened to slash U.S. aid to many UN members and declared China’s trade practices will not be tolerated much longer.

Senate Republicans Eye Monday or Tuesday Floor Vote on Kavanaugh
Schedule assumes Judiciary Committee hearing, markup does not alter GOP plans

Protesters opposing the Brett Kavanaugh confirmation to the Supreme Court march to Sen. Susan Collins’s office on Monday, Sept. 24, 2018. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

Senate Republican leaders want to schedule a floor vote for Monday or Tuesday on the confirmation of Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court “unless something derailed it along the way,” according to Senate Republican Conference Chairman John Thune of South Dakota. 

Thune told reporters at the Capitol on Tuesday that if all goes according to plan, Republicans could get the procedural gears turning over the weekend. That assumes Thursday’s hearing of the Senate Judiciary Committee featuring Kavanaugh and Christine Blasey Ford, who has accused him of sexual assault, does not alter the current trajectory that Senate GOP leaders have set. 

Pete Aguilar Announces Bid for Democratic Caucus Vice Chair Against Katherine Clark
Democrats have their second contested leadership race for the 116th Congress

Rep. Pete Aguilar, D-Calif., is running for Democratic Caucus vice chair. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

House Democrats officially have their second contested leadership race, with California Rep. Pete Aguilar announcing Tuesday that he plans to run for Democratic Caucus vice chair. 

Aguilar will face Massachusetts Rep. Katherine Clark, who announced her plans to run for the position in July.  

Trump: Second Kavanaugh Accuser Was ‘Too Messed Up’ to be Credible
President makes strongest statement yet against Supreme Court nominee’s accuser

President Donald Trump waves after addressing the media after arriving at the United Nations General Assembly on Tuesday. (Stephanie Keith/Getty Images)