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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Trump Slams 9th Circuit as a ‘Disgrace,’ Intends to File ‘Major Complaint’
President also defends daughter Ivanka Trump over email use

President Donald Trump says he plans to file a “major complaint” against the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. (Sarah Silbiger/CQ Roll Call file photo)

President Donald Trump on Tuesday called the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals a “disgrace,” saying he intends to file a “major complaint” against it for a ruling against his attempts to cease asylum grants to migrants.

Without providing specific potential moves, he told reporters on the South Lawn that the country must “look at” the 9th Circuit because other countries take cases against the U.S. there for an “automatic win.”

Trump Goes There While Pardoning Turkeys. Of Course He Did
President warns both Peas and Carrots that House Dems may subpoena them

Peas, a South Dakota-bred turkey, appears in the White House briefing room Tuesday a few hours before receiving a presidential pardon. (John T. Bennett/CQ Roll Call)

Peas, one of the South Dakota-bred turkeys that received a presidential pardon Tuesday, pleaded the Fifth. But President Donald Trump had a warning for the creature about House Democrats.

The bright white bird merely pranced around in the Rose Garden and let out nary a gobble as Trump warned him that he may be among the first target of several investigation-minded House committees next year.

Rating Change: Mississippi Senate Race No Longer Solid Republican
Hyde-Smith remains the favorite but some uncertainty has crept into the contest

Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith, R-Miss., faces former Democratic Rep. Mike Espy in the Nov. 27 special election runoff in Mississippi. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Democrats are not on the cusp of winning a Senate seat in Mississippi. But if we learned anything over the last two years, it’s that Republicans find new ways to make special elections more close and exciting than they should be.

First of all, go read Stu Rothenberg’s column on the race and the dynamic. He does a good job of laying out the electoral challenge in front of former Democratic Rep. Mike Espy, even if appointed GOP Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith is not a stellar candidate.

Trump White House Goes With Saudi Story in Jamal Khashoggi Murder
CIA reportedly said Mohammad bin Salman was responsible

President Donald Trump is siding with Saudi royal family. (Sarah Silbiger/CQ Roll Call file photo)

President Donald Trump again broke with U.S. intelligence Tuesday, this time siding with senior Saudi leaders and their denials they ordered the killing of a Washington Post journalist.

It came in a most unusual written statement from the White House, issued as the press corps on duty ahead of Thanksgiving gathered in the Rose Garden for the generally light-hearted turkey pardoning.

Zinke Circles Back to Familiar Scapegoat for California Fires
Cost of combating blazes will be ‘well into the billions,’ Interior secretary says

Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, right, seen here in Paradise, Calif., earlier this month with California Gov. Jerry Brown and FEMA Administrator Brock Long, center, is blaming the Golden State’s devastating forest fires on environmental groups. (Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

As the dead and damage continue to be tabulated from California’s Camp Fire, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke on Tuesday continued the administration drumbeat that environmental groups are to blame for the devastation, saying they have prevented officials from forestry practices that reduce the risk of deadly blazes.

Forest experts, scientists and resource managers say a combination of factors, including drought exacerbated by climate change and urban and rural development patterns, have helped lead to the current situation. But Zinke on several occasions during fire season has put the blame squarely on environmental groups that are frequently at odds with Republican politicians. 

Farm Aid Payments to City Dwellers Prompt Call for Limits on Program
Study found more than 1,000 recipients had city addresses

The current reauthorization of the farm bill might become a vehicle to tighten eligibility to certain forms of farm aid. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

Nearly 1,150 recipients who qualified for aid under a $12 billion Trump administration program to offset foreign tariffs on U.S. farm products maintain city addresses, an interest group found in an initial survey, prompting calls for overhauling the program.

The Environmental Working Group argued Monday that the data should prompt lawmakers working on a pending reauthorization of federal farm and nutrition programs to impose tougher standards to reduce the number of “city slickers” eligible for farm subsidies.

Ethics Committee Cites ‘Recent Experience’ as Need for Sexual Harassment Overhaul
Panel suggests difficulty obtaining information from the Office of Compliance

The House Ethics Committee is urging quick passage of legislation to address sexual harassment. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

The 10 members of the House Ethics Committee are urging the top four congressional leaders to quickly pass anti-sexual harassment legislation to overhaul the Congressional Accountability Act, noting the House bill would provide solutions to problems the panel has encountered this year. 

In a letter dated Monday that all members signed, they cite the House bill’s provision that would require the Office of Compliance, which would be renamed the Office of Workplace Rights, to refer certain matters to the committee, providing the panel access to any records regarding investigations, hearings, decisions, settlements or claims.

Rep. Joe Kennedy III, Once Staunchly Anti-Marijuana, Changes His Position
6 in 10 Americans support legalizing marijuana, including a majority of Republicans, recent polling shows

Rep. Joe Kennedy III, D-Mass., expressed support for descheduling marijuana in an editorial in the Boston Globe's health vertical STAT News on Tuesday. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

One of the staunchest opponents of marijuana decriminalization in Congress, Rep. Joe Kennedy III, changed course on Tuesday, endorsing nationwide legalization in a Boston Globe editorial.

“I believe we must implement strong, clear, and fair federal guidelines. To do that requires us to remove marijuana from the Controlled Substances Act (CSA) and legalize it at the federal level,” the Massachusetts congressman wrote, citing its value to public health and racial inequities in how laws on pot are enforced. 

Pelosi Rebel Seth Moulton Gets Pushback at Massachusetts Town Hall
Crowd at Amesbury event dotted with pro-Pelosi protesters

Rep. Seth Moulton, D-Mass., heard from protesters who aren’t happy with his opposition to Nancy Pelosi’s speaker bid. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Rep. Seth Moulton, one of a handful of Democrats leading the crusade against House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi’s bid to reclaim the speaker’s gavel when Democrats take back the majority in January, caught heat at a town hall in his district on Monday.

“The majority of Americans want this change. The majority of Democrats want this change,” Moulton told constituents at a town hall in Amesbury, Massachusetts, to loud jeers of “No.”

Money Doesn’t Always Buy (Electoral) Love, but It Can Help
Scott and Cisneros spent big on their own campaigns and won, while other self-funders tanked

Florida Gov. Rick Scott, who won Florida's Senate race over the weekend, spent at least $64 million of his own money on his campaign. That kind of self-funding doesn’t always pay off though. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

The victories of California Democrat Gil Cisneros and Florida Republican Rick Scott are yet another reminder that when it comes to running for public office, having personal wealth can be pretty helpful.

Both candidates spent millions of their own money and ultimately prevailed in races that went on long past Election Day. Cisneros, who won the lottery in 2010, kicked at least $9 million of his own money into his campaign for California’s 39th District, which The Associated Press called in his favor on Saturday.

Top Trump Aide Denies Recession Rumbles as Stocks Tumble
Kudlow: ‘I don’t even remotely agree’ with downturn warnings

Lawrence Kudlow, President Donald Trump's chief economic adviser, says there is nothing to worry about with the economy. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)

U.S. stock markets continued to drop sharply on Tuesday, but the chief economic adviser to President Donald Trump insists the economy is not headed for a recession.

“I don’t even remotely agree with that,” Lawrence Kudlow told reporters when asked if he agrees with some top financial firms that the American economy is primed for a major slowdown after steady growth under President Barack Obama and faster growth under the Trump administration.

4 House Races Remain Uncalled, Previously Projected Race in California Narrows
GOP Rep. Valadao was winning by 4,000 votes on Election Day; now he’s up by less than 1,000

Rep. David Valadao, R-Calif., was declared the winner of his race against TJ Cox on Election Day. But his lead has dwindled to less than 1,000 votes. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Two weeks have gone by since the midterm elections, but officials have yet to determine the winner in four House races. And the results of a California House race that was called on election night has now been thrown into question.

House Democrats have long since passed the threshold for a majority that they haven’t held since 2010. They currently have 232 seats called in their favor with the potential to win some of those five not-yet-called races. They’re likely to finish around 234 with a 33-seat majority.

Schumer Asks if Acting AG Talked to White House About Russia Probe Details
Senate Democratic leader requests review by Justice Department inspector general

Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y., has  questions about contacts between the White House and acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker about the Russia investigation. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer wants to know if the acting attorney general talked to the White House about the special counsel investigation of Russian meddling in the 2016 election.

Specifically, the New York Democrat is asking Justice Department Inspector General Michael Horowitz about contacts between Matthew G. Whitaker and other parts of the Donald Trump administration about the work of Special Counsel Robert S. Mueller III and his team.

Ben McAdams Claims Victory Over Mia Love
Incumbent GOP rep hasn’t conceded; votes in the Utah’s 4th District to be certified Tuesday

Ben McAdams, Democratic candidate for Utah's 4th Congressional District, said his lead after the latest ballot tally is insurmountable. (Photo By Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

Having secured a 739-vote lead as ballot counting in Utah finally draws to a close, Democratic challenger Ben McAdams declared victory over Republican Rep. Mia Love in a news conference Monday night. 

“We have looked at the numbers and the number of votes that are outstanding and we are confident at this point in the results of this election,” McAdams said.

A Mississippi Senate Flip? Probably Not
Absent reliable data, Democratic chances there should be taken with skepticism

Appointed Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith, R-Miss., is in the Mississippi Senate runoff with former Agriculture Secretary Mike Espy, a Democrat. Is the race close? That depends on your definition of close, Rothenberg writes. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

ANALYSIS — Alabama Democrat Doug Jones demonstrated last year that candidates matter and that on the rarest occasions — such as when the majority party’s nominee is accused of sexual misconduct by many women — voters in federal races veer from their partisan loyalties. But Jones’s win was the exception, not the rule, and it shouldn’t obscure the difficulty Mississippi Democratic Senate hopeful Mike Espy faces in a runoff in one of the most Republican and conservative states in the entire country.

The Washington Post reported Sunday that the Mississippi Senate runoff “has turned into an unexpectedly competitive contest.” That’s hard to challenge, since expectations are a matter of opinion, as is competitiveness. But until I see hard evidence that Democrats have a realistic shot at the seat, count me as skeptical that the Mississippi seat is in play.