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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Latest Twist in Russia Investigation Involves Unnamed Member of Congress
Rick Gates’ pleaded guilty to lying about meeting that matched dinner with Rohrabacher

Former Trump campaign aide Rick Gates leaves the E. Barrett Prettyman United States Courthouse after a court hearing on the conditions of his release on Nov. 6, 2017. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)

The wide-ranging investigation of Russian meddling in the 2016 campaign took an unexpected diversion to Capitol Hill on Friday, when former Trump campaign aide Rick Gates pleaded guilty to lying to investigators about a meeting between his boss Paul Manafort and an unnamed member of Congress.

Gates admitted, according to court documents, that the 2013 meeting was part of a secret multimillion-dollar lobbying campaign for the Ukrainian government and its Russian-backed president, Viktor Yanukovych. Gates also pleaded guilty to conspiring with Manafort to hide the millions of dollars they were paid by the Ukrainian government.

White House Locked Down After Vehicle Rams Barrier
Incident occured at 17th & E Streets, NW

“Restricted Area Do Not Enter” signs on barricades in front of the White House fence are intended to help deter fence jumpers. (Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

The White House complex was locked down Friday — with the Australian prime minister still inside its tall black gates — after a vehicle crashed into a security barrier.

Cable news networks captured images of uniformed U.S. Secret Service Agents walking in the middle of Washington’s 17th St. NW on the west side of the White House campus holding their firearms, fingers off but all positioned near the triggers.

Analysis: Australian Leader Hits Trump With Charm Offensive
Turnbull eager to repair strained relations, boost economic cooperation

Before a joint press conference with Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, President Donald Trump addressed the Conservative Political Action Conference at the Gaylord National Resort in Oxon Hill, Md., on February 23, 2018. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

ANALYSIS | Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull went with flattery, lavishing Donald Trump with praise and using the U.S. president’s own rhetoric as he tried to repair a once-strained relationship.

Turnbull delivered his message about U.S.-Aussie “mateship” during a joint press conference at the White House during which Trump revealed he will delegate a final decision on whether his son-in-law will continue to get classified information, despite his inability to qualify for a security clearance. He also said he detects a “movement” among lawmakers to pass legislation to prevent future school shootings.

Freedom Caucus Chairman: ‘If We Cave the American People Will Remember It’
Meadows says he’s not concerned about who the speaker is but GOP needs to ‘show real leadership’

House Freedom Caucus leaders Mark Meadows, R-N.C., left, and Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, are pushing their leadership to pass a conservative immigration bill. (Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)

“Show real leadership.”

That was House Freedom Caucus Chairman Mark Meadows’s message for House Republican leaders Friday, as he and former HFC chairman Jim Jordan took the stage at the annual Conservative Political Action Conference.

Trump at CPAC: ‘Lock Her Up,’ ‘The Snake’ — and Hiding the Bald Spot
Democrats want to ‘take away your Second Amendment,’ POTUS says

President Donald Trump arrives to address the Conservative Political Action Conference at the Gaylord National Resort in Oxon Hill, Mayland, on Friday. (Photo By Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

The crowd chanted “lock her up!” Donald Trump gleefully veered off-script, saying his prepared speech was “a little boring.” He depicted undocumented immigrants as “the snake” that inevitably will deliver a “vicious bite” to American citizens.

And he told the crowd he tries “like hell” to hide a bald spot on his head.

DCCC Unloads on Democratic Candidate in Texas
Laura Moser is running in a crowded primary in competitive 7th District

Texas Democrat Laura Moser is drawing heat from her own party over concerns about her viability as a general election candidate. (Courtesy Laura Moser for Congress/Facebook)

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee is openly rejecting a Democratic candidate in Texas, releasing research Thursday night that accused her of being a “Washington insider” just over one week before the primary. 

Laura Moser is running in the crowded March 6 primary in the Houston-based 7th District. Democrats are targeting nine-term Republican incumbent John Culberson’s suburban seat this year, after Hillary Clinton carried the district by 1 point in 2016.

Doctor In Menendez Corruption Case Gets 17 Years in Prison
Florida eye doctor defrauded Medicare of $73 million

New Jersey Sen. Robert Menendez said in December he still communicates closely with eye doctor Salomon Melgen. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

A federal judge on Thursday sentenced the Florida eye doctor linked to New Jersey Democratic Sen. Robert Menendez’s dropped corruption case to 17 years in prison for defrauding Medicare and stealing $73 million from the system.

Salomon Melgen was sentenced in court for 67 crimes, including health care fraud, submitting false claims and falsifying records in patients’ files.

Trump: Deputy Who Stayed Outside During Florida Shooting a ‘Coward’
President wants ‘offensive power’ inside schools to take down gunmen

People are brought out of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School after a shooting at the school that reportedly killed and injured multiple people on February 14, 2018 in Parkland, Florida. Numerous law enforcement officials continue to investigate the scene. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

President Donald Trump dubbed an armed Florida sheriff’s deputy who remained outside the Parkland, Florida,  high school where 17 people were gunned down last week a “coward.”

Scot Peterson, a Broward County sheriff's deputy, was at the high school when a 19-year-old former student entered with an AR-15 assault rifle and began firing. Peterson, local law enforcement officials said Thursday, did not go inside to confront the gunman. Peterson has resigned.

Candidate for Trent Franks’ Seat Admits He Received Nude Picture
Steve Montenegro said he alerted wife when topless photo of junior legislative staffer came in

Arizona House candidate Steve Montenegro said Thursday he did not have an inappropriate relationship with a staffer who sent him topless photos. (SteveMontenegro.com)

Republican congressional candidate Steve Montenegro, who is running to replace disgraced Arizona Rep. Trent Franks, copped to receiving a topless photograph of a junior state legislative staffer, but said he did nothing inappropriate.

The admission came less than 72 hours after he called initial media reports of the racy exchange “false tabloid trash.”

Bernie Sanders’ Son Weighing House Run in New Hampshire
New Hampshire Democrats conflicted over ‘carpetbagger’

Levi Sanders, right, arrived with Sen. Bernie Sanders and his wife Jane Sanders at a primary night rally in Essex Junction, Vermont. in 2016. (Jacquelyn Martin/AP file photo)

Levi Sanders, son of 2016 presidential candidate and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, is considering a run in New Hampshire's First District.

“Oh, absolutely. I’m definitely considering it. I’m excited, motivated and interested in the race,” Sanders told Vice News Thursday. “I’m just dotting my I’s and crossing my T’s.”

Ratings Changes: 15 Races Shift Toward Democrats, 1 Toward Republicans
Democratic chances have improved beyond Pennsylvania

From left, Democrats Josh Gottheimer of New Jersey and Stephanie Murphy of Florida are looking more secure in their re-elections this fall, while, from right, Republicans Ted Budd and Mimi Walters may be more vulnerable. (Bill Clark/Thomas McKinless/CQ Roll Call file photos)

Less than eight months before Election Day, the midterm landscape is still taking shape. It’s still not clear whether Democrats will have a good night (and potentially fall short of a majority) or a historic night in the House that puts them well over the top. But mounting evidence nationally and at the district level points to a Democratic advantage in a growing number of seats.

Democratic prospects improved in a handful of seats in Pennsylvania, thanks to a new, court-ordered map. And the party’s successes in state and local elections over the last 14 months demonstrate a surge in Democratic voters, particularly in blue areas, that could be problematic for Republican candidates in the fall. GOP incumbents in districts Hillary Clinton carried in 2016 might be particularly susceptible to increased Democratic enthusiasm.

Administration Pushes Abstinence Promotion
Latest moves alarm reproductive rights advocates

Recording artist Ciara, center, performs in honor of National Teen Pregnancy Awareness Month in New York’s Times Square in 2011. (Jason Kempin/Getty Images file photo)

Recent administrative actions signal a shift from promoting comprehensive sexual health information to abstinence-only education, which concerns reproductive rights advocates who question abstinence promotion’s efficacy at preventing teen pregnancy.

The administration already announced last year the discontinuation of a teen pregnancy prevention, or TPP, program that funded grants to communities that study ways to prevent teens from getting pregnant and run prevention programs. The Department of Health and Human Services has promoted more abstinence-only alternatives and increasingly uses the phrase “sexual risk avoidance,” another term for abstinence, in materials.

At the Races: Desert Drama
Our weekly newsletter on congressional campaigns

The primary in the race to replace GOP Rep. Trent Franks is Tuesday. Franks resigned in December amid allegations of sexual harassment. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Thanks for subscribing to At the Races! You can keep track of House and Senate races with this weekly newsletter. Sign up here. We want to hear what you think. Send us your questions, tips or candidate sightings. — Simone Pathé and Bridget Bowman

House Cancels Votes for Billy Graham to Lie in Honor in Capitol Rotunda
Senate will remain in session Wednesday and Thursday

Hawaii Sen. Daniel K. Inouye lies in state on Dec. 20, 2012, on Capitol Hill. (Douglas Graham/CQ Roll Call file photo)

The House is shortening its Feb. 26 work week, canceling votes that Wednesday and Thursday, for the late Rev. Billy Graham to lie in honor in the Capitol Rotunda.

“As is traditional, votes are no longer expected in the House on Wednesday, February 28, or Thursday, March 1,” House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy’s office announced. “Last votes next week will now occur during the evening hours of Tuesday, February 27.”

‘Harden’ Schools to Combat Shooters, Trump Says
Calls for offensive measures, training and arming teachers

Washington, D.C., area students and supporters protest against gun violence outside the White House on Monday. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

President Donald Trump wants to “harden” schools to secure them like banks, but the security guards he envisions would be teachers and other school employees.

For the second consecutive day, the president pitched the notion of giving firearms and specialized training to some teachers and school staffers so they could combat individuals who enter schools with the intent of killing people. He further drove home that he opposes existing laws allowing individuals under the age of 21 to purchase assault rifles.