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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Health care riders, farm payouts slow stopgap deal
Bill pulled from House Rules agenda late Tuesday afternoon

Montana Sen. Jon Tester is among those objecting to potential provisions in a stopgap spending bill needed to keep the government open after Sept. 30. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Trade assistance for farmers hit by retaliatory tariffs and the details of several health care program extensions were standing in the way of agreement on a stopgap funding measure Tuesday, sources said.

According to a senior Democratic aide, the bill was likely to include an increase in the Commodity Credit Corporation’s $30 billion borrowing cap that the Trump administration asked for earlier this month. But provisions on “accountability and transparency” were still under discussion, the aide said.

Corey Lewandowski sounds like a Senate candidate

Corey Lewandowski, the former campaign manager for President Donald Trump, rebuffed Democrats’ questions at a House Judiciary Committee hearing. (Caroline Brehman/CQ Roll Call)

Former Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski appeared before a House Judiciary Committee hearing Tuesday on possible presidential obstruction of justice.

Corey Lewandowski teases Senate run as he testifies before Judiciary Committee
Former Trump campaign manager appeared to relish spotlight in impeachment hearing

Corey Lewandowski, the former campaign manager for President Donald Trump, tweeted a link to a potential campaign website during the first break in his testimony before the House Judiciary Committee on Tuesday. (Caroline Brehman/CQ Roll Call)

Frustrating the Democrats and proving loyalty to President Donald Trump: That’s just good politics for a Republican.

At least that’s what former Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski appeared to be banking on Tuesday as he testified before the House Judiciary Committee and continued to tease a possible bid for Senate from New Hampshire.

Trump mocks Elizabeth Warren’s NYC crowd: ‘Anybody could do that’
Reports: Massachusetts senator drew ‘thousands’ in Washington Square Park

Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., waves to the crowd as she arrives for a rally in Washington Square Park in New York on Monday. (Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

President Donald Trump, who often touts the size of crowds at his events and knocks those of his foes, on Tuesday dismissed an audience Sen. Elizabeth Warren drew the night before in New York City.

Warren spoke in front of the iconic arch in the Big Apple’s Washington Square Park before an audience numbering in the “thousands,” according to estimates from local media outlets. But the president, who sent his first press secretary, Sean Spicer, out on his first full day on the job to make false statements about the size of Trump’s inauguration audience, contended he was not impressed with Warren’s crowd.

Grassley talks tailgating Iowa-Iowa State game

AMES, IA - Wide receiver La'Michael Pettway #7 of the Iowa State Cyclones celebrates after scoring a touchdown against the Iowa Hawkeyes at Jack Trice Stadium on September 14, 2019. (David Purdy/Getty Images)

Sen. Charles E. Grassley joined tens of thousands of his fellow Iowans in Ames over the weekend at the state’s biggest rivalry football game between the University of Iowa and Iowa State University.

Swedish teen Greta Thunberg joins senators, advocates seeking climate action
Appearance is first of several on Capitol Hill to promote global strike effort

Swedish youth climate activist Greta Thunberg, center, makes her way to a press conference to discuss climate change. (Caroline Brehman/CQ Roll Call)

Ahead of a global strike for climate action, Swedish teen activist Greta Thunberg joined fellow young advocates and Senate Democrats to draw attention to the peril of global warming.

Although she did not speak at a Tuesday news conference organized by Massachusetts Sen. Edward J. Markey and other Democrats, a representative for Thunberg said the 16-year-old was there to lend her support. She has, however, planned a blitz of activity around the Capitol this week that will culminate in the global climate strike.

First impeachment hearing becomes test of Judiciary Committee sway
Hearing looks unlikely to produce much, other than once again demonstrating White House resistance to congressional oversight

Corey Lewandowski, former campaign manager for President Donald Trump, testifies before the House Judiciary Committee on Tuesday. (Caroline Brehman/CQ Roll Call)

House Judiciary Chairman Jerrold Nadler launched a series of hearings Tuesday highlighting President Donald Trump’s actions to educate the public and other lawmakers on reasons for impeachment — but the witnesses and the White House had other plans.

Two of the three witnesses don’t plan to show up on the orders of the White House, part of the Trump administration’s fight-all-the-subpoenas approach that leaves the committee to either file lawsuits to enforce the subpoenas or hold the witnesses in contempt.

Senate Democrats prepare marathon floor session on gun violence
Late night is expected as 22 senators are prepared to call for legislation

Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., will lead nearly two dozen senators in a marathon of floor speeches on gun violence Tuesday night. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

Nearly two dozen Senate Democrats plan to make it a late night on Tuesday, speaking out on the Senate floor about the impact of gun violence and legislative proposals Congress could explore.

The speeches are expected to begin around 5:30 p.m. and run late. Connecticut Democrat Christopher S. Murphy is leading the effort, spurred by mass shootings in Texas and Ohio during the August recess and the lack of clear response from the White House on what, if any, gun control measures they could agree to.

California’s Paul Cook joins parade of House Republicans retiring
Cook will run for the San Bernardino County Board of Supervisors

Rep. Paul Cook, R-Calif., is retiring from Congress. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Four-term California Rep. Paul Cook is retiring from Congress to run for county office instead, continuing the stream of House Republicans heading toward the exit.

Cook’s chief of staff, John Sobel, told the Los Angeles Times that the congressman plans to run for the San Bernadino County Board of Supervisors. Sobel did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Rep. Chabot gets new campaign treasurer amid probe into missing money
Man listed as previous campaign treasurer claims he never worked for the campaign except as a volunteer sometimes

Rep. Steve Chabot, R-Ohio, has hired a new campaign treasurer as federal investigators probe his campaign over missing money. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Ohio GOP Rep. Steve Chabot’s campaign has hired a new treasurer after revealing earlier this month that federal investigators launched a probe into missing campaign funds totaling more than $123,000.

Natalie Baur, who has been the finance director and treasurer for Ohio GOP Sen. Rob Portman’s campaign since 2009, is listed as Chabot’s new campaign treasurer on a Federal Election Commission document filed Monday.

Far from being ignored, Andrew Yang receives too much attention
So do Gabbard, Williamson and Sanders, given their likelihood of winning nomination

Democratic presidential candidate and entrepreneur Andrew Yang speaks at the Iowa State Fair in August. (Caroline Brehman/CQ Roll Call file photo)

More than 250 people running for the Democratic presidential nomination are polling within a couple of points of Andrew Yang, but that won’t stop his Yang Gang and some members of the media from calling for the press to pay more attention to their candidate.

Blaming a losing candidate’s lack of traction on the media is a time-honored tradition. But Yang, Marianne Williamson, Hawaii Rep. Tulsi Gabbard and even Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders get more attention than they deserve given their likelihood of winning the Democratic nomination.

China trade war has Massachusetts lawmakers wanting new export markets for lobsters
China has imposed a 25 percent tariff, hurting exports from New England

Lobsterman Jason Grindle unloads his catch from the Gulf of Maine at the Stonington Lobster Co-op in Stonington, Maine, in July. (Joe Raedle/Getty Images file photo)

New England lobster trappers have been among victims of the trade tensions between the United States and China.

Members of the Massachusetts congressional delegation want the Trump administration to help their home state lobster industry by seeking new export markets for the crustaceans.

Beto O'Rourke hits back at Texas lawmaker in AR-15 dispute by raising money for his opponent
‘My AR is ready for you Robert Francis,’ state Rep. Briscoe Cain said after O’Rourke’s assault rifle comments in debate last week

Democratic presidential candidate Beto O'Rourke boosted a state legislative candidate who is challenging a Republican in Texas who O’Rourke says threatened him over his assault rifle comments last week. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)

A  long-shot Democratic candidate for the Texas legislature may have outpaced his opponent in fundraising over the weekend with the help of Beto O’Rourke.

Josh Markle, a Democratic candidate for the 128th District in Texas, raised $68,000 following an endorsement from O’Rourke, possibly surpassing incumbent state Rep. Briscoe Cain’s $56,000 war chest, the Houston Chronicle reported

Watch out 2020 Democrats, Trump might have a long game
3 takeaways from the president’s New Mexico rally as he tries to flip state Clinton won in 2016

President Donald Trump on Monday night enters a campaign rally at the Santa Ana Star Center in Rio Rancho, New Mexico. The rally marks President Trump's first trip to New Mexico as president and the start of a three-day campaign trip to New Mexico and California. (Cengiz Yar/Getty Images)

ANALYSIS | Donald Trump’s rally Monday night in New Mexico was billed as an opportunity for the president to try expanding his base and flip a state he lost in 2016. But his message — again — offered little new to moderate swing voters.

Trump’s Rio Rancho campaign stop was calculated, with his campaign looking to flip a small handful of states won in 2016 by Hillary Clinton; she won New Mexico by 8.3 percentage points. It was the second state she won to which he has traveled to headline a rally this year; he was in New Hampshire last month. Collectively, there are nine Electoral College votes between the two states.

Elizabeth Warren’s K Street overhaul
Plan would prohibit former lawmakers and officials from lobbying, expand ‘cooling-off’ periods and more

Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., speaks at the Iowa State Fair in August. (Caroline Brehman/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Democratic presidential candidate Elizabeth Warren, the Massachusetts senator who regularly blasts the lobbying and influence sector, announced a new set of proposals Monday aimed at curbing the revolving door between business and government.

She would prohibit members of Congress and other top officials from ever becoming lobbyists and would expand cooling-off periods to at least two years for lower-level officials.