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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California Democratic Party Endorses Dianne Feinstein Opponent Kevin de León
De León took 65 percent of the delegate vote

California state Sen. Kevin de León is challenging Sen. Dianne Feinstein in the all-Democratic general election in November. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)

The California Democratic Party has endorsed state Sen. Kevin de León over Sen. Dianne Feinstein, backing a challenger who is taking on a longtime incumbent.

The endorsement came after Feinstein had encouraged party leaders not to endorse either candidate for Senate in the name of party unity. But on Saturday, de León won 65 percent of the delegates’ votes, surpassing the 60 percent threshold necessary to secure the endorsement.

Trump Sets Notably Low Bar for Putin Summit
President also calls European Union a ‘foe’ on trade matters

President Donald Trump waves while playing a round of golf on Sunday at Trump Turnberry Luxury Collection Resort in Turnberry, Scotland, during his first official visit to the United Kingdom. (Leon Neal/Getty Images)

Updated 10:43 a.m. | President Donald Trump has a message for his critics about his upcoming meeting with Vladimir Putin: Don’t worry, it’ll be fine — just trust me. And, in a stunning remark, he called the European Union a “foe” of the United States on trade matters.

Trump continues to set low expectations for Monday’s summit with Putin amid concerns he could give into the Russian leader’s demands while getting little — if anything — in return. 

Mitch McConnell Expects Vote on Brett Kavanaugh Before October
Senate majority leader cites examples of previous justices

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, left, expects a vote on Brett Kavanaugh before the October Supreme Court term begins. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

Speaking in Louisville on Friday, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell re-affirmed the timeline for considering the nomination of Brett Kavanaugh to be an associate justice of the Supreme Court.

“The timetable typically, for recent Supreme Court Justices, if we stuck to that timetable, and I intend to, would give us an opportunity to get this new justice on the court by the 1st of October, and all of you may know that’s what’s called the October term,” McConnell told reporters back in his home state.

Top Democrats Warn Intelligence Director About Sharing Secrets With Other Members of Congress
Letter to Dan Coats does not discuss specifics of intelligence in question

Rep. Adam B. Schiff was among the signatories on a Thursday letter critical of DNI Dan Coats. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Democratic members of the group of lawmakers with access to particularly sensitive intelligence information expressed concern Thursday about broader dissemination — to other members of Congress.

The July 12 letter directed to Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats was publicly released on Friday.

Indictment: Congressional Candidate Sought Info From Russians
Request for info from Russian operatives came in August 2016

Special counsel Robert S. Mueller III announced Friday that a congressional candidate contacted Russian operatives for information in 2016. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

The indictment of 12 Russian military officers for attempting to interfere with the 2016 U.S. election revealed that a candidate for Congress sought information from Russia.

The indictment stated that on Aug. 15, 2016, the conspirators posing as the “Guccifer 2.0” online persona received a request for stolen documents from a congressional candidate.

Trump Should Cancel Putin Summit Over Indictments, Democrats Say
Schumer: ‘Putin is an adversary who interfered in our elections’

Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer and other Democrats called on the president to skip his planned meeting with Vladimir Putin on Monday. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Democrats pounced on special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s indictment of a dozen Russian military officers for their efforts to interfere in the 2016 U.S. election, with some saying Monday’s Donald Trump-Vladimir Putin summit should be canceled.

“These indictments are further proof of what everyone but the president seems to understand: President Putin is an adversary who interfered in our elections to help President Trump win,” Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer said in a statement.

Pelosi Suggests Democrats Hold Leadership Elections After Thanksgiving
Move would allow time for incoming freshman ‘to get oriented,’ she says

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., holds her weekly press conference in the Capitol on Thursday, July 12, 2018. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi sent a dear colleague letter to House Democrats Friday suggesting the caucus wait until after Thanksgiving to hold its leadership elections for the next Congress. 

The letter may seem strange coming four months in advance of the lame-duck session during which intraparty leadership elections would be held, but according to a Democratic leadership aide members had been inquiring about the timing of the caucus elections, so the letter was meant to clear the matter up.

Mueller Indicts 12 Russians for DNC, Clinton Campaign Hacking
Special counsel again targets leading Russian intel agency

Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein conducts a news conference Friday at the Department of Justice announcing the indictment of 12 Russian military officers by Special Counsel Robert Mueller, who alleges they interfered in the 2016 election. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Updated 1:23 p.m. | The Justice Department’s special counsel announced Friday the indictments of a dozen Russian military officers involved in Moscow’s effort to interfere in the 2016 U.S. election. And a senior Democratic lawmaker reacted swiftly by accusing President Donald Trump of “dangerous distortions” about the operation.

The indictment accuses the Russians of being heavily involved in hacking computer networks of the Democratic National Committee and Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign organization. The military officers allegedly broke into those systems — and others in the United States — to plant malicious software, steal emails and nab other documents. To conceal their efforts, Rosenstein said, the Russians used networks “around the world” and paid for that access with Cryptocurrency.

Federal Watchdog Advises HHS to Recoup Price’s Travel Expenses
20 of 21 trips failed to comply with requirements, OIG finds

Former Secretary of Health and Human Services Tom Price. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)

A federal watchdog is recommending the Department of Health and Human Services recoup $341,000 associated with former Secretary Tom Price’s travel expenses.

The HHS Office of the Inspector General released Thursday an audit that found 20 of 21 trips Price and other HHS officials took during his time in office did not comply with federal requirements. Price, a hardline fiscal conservative during his time in Congress, resigned last September after it was revealed that he regularly chartered private planes for routine business trips.

Sheriff Joe Arpaio the Latest Politician to Admit Falling for Sacha Baron Cohen’s Act
British entertainer interviewed Arizona Senate candidate as a ‘Finnish comedian’

Joe Arpaio, who is running for the GOP nomination in Arizona’s Senate race, was interviewed by British comedian Sacha Baron Cohen for his upcoming Showtime series. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Joe Arpaio, the former Pheonix-area sheriff who is running for Arizona’s open Senate seat this fall, is the latest in a line of conservative American political figures to admit being duped by British entertainer Sacha Baron Cohen and agreeing to one of his famous interviews.

Cohen is well-known for conducting interviews with unwitting suspects while he role-plays as foreign characters with controversial views on race, politics, and sexuality.

Rating Change: GOP House Open Seat in New Jersey Shifts to Likely Democratic
Republicans face uphill battle to retain seat of retiring Frank LoBiondo

Rating change for New Jersey's 2nd District race: The open seat contest to replace retiring GOP Rep. Frank LoBiondo, pictured here, shifts to favor Democrats. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Sometimes political handicapping can be difficult. Shifting a well-liked Democratic senator in North Dakota, who has won a close and competitive race previously, to Tilts Republican from Toss-Up wasn’t an easy decision. But Republican Seth Grossman is making it easy for political analysts.

The former Atlantic County Freeholder won the GOP nomination in New Jersey’s 2nd District on June 5, but the National Republican Congressional Committee disavowed him on Monday after multiple offensive statements came to light. “Bigotry has no place in society — let alone the U.S. House of Representatives,” said NRCC Chairman Steve Stivers of Ohio.

Senate Democrats Target Michael Cohen for ‘Selling Access’ to Trump
Former personal attorney to POTUS is key subject in Mueller investigation

Democratic senators criticized former Donald Trump attorney Michael Cohen for what one called his “side hustle as influencer-in-chief.” (Eduardo Munoz Alvarez/Getty Images file photo)

Michael Cohen, the former personal attorney for President Donald Trump, is the target of a new report from Democratic senators who on Friday accused him of “selling access” to the White House through a shell company he formed during the 2016 election campaign.

The senators’ report is based on emails they obtained from Swiss pharmaceutical company Novartis, which signed a $1.2 million contract with Cohen’s shell company, Essential Consultants LLC, for “consulting and advisory services.”

Trump Walks Back Threat to Blow Up U.S.-British Trade Talks
British government ‘is keen’ to trade with its former colonies, May says

Britain's Prime Minister Theresa May, front left, and her husband Philip May, back right, greet President Donald Trump and first lady Melania Trump at Blenheim Palace on Thursday in Woodstock, England. (Dan Kitwood/Getty Images)

President Trump walked back his comments to The Sun newspaper in which he voiced opposition to UK Prime Minister Theresa May’s angling for a so-called "soft Brexit."

“I don’t know what they’re going to do, but whatever you do is fine with me,” he told May. “Just make sure that we can trade together. That’s all that matters.”

Clark Bill Would Keep Guns From Those Convicted of Animal Cruelty
Massachusetts Democrat cites study linking animal abuse and future violence

Rep. Katherine Clark, D-Mass., speaks during the Bipartisan Heroin Task Force news conference on the release of the 2018 legislative agenda for the 115th Congress on Wednesday, Jan. 10, 2018. (Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

Massachusetts Rep. Katherine M. Clark has proposed legislation that would prevent people convicted of animal cruelty from accessing firearms.

Clark said her bill would close an existing loophole and cited a study from the Massachusetts Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals and Northeastern University linking animal abuse and future violence, MassLive reported.

Trump Tweets Endorsement for Gaetz From London
Freshman Florida congressman who has been ardent Trump supporter faces primary challenge

Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla., was endorsed by President Donald Trump. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

President Donald Trump tweeted his support of Republican Rep. Matt Gaetz ahead of Florida’s primary.

Trump tweeted that Gaetz is “one of the finest and most talented people in Congress.”