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.

Get breaking news alerts and more from Roll Call on your iPhone or your Android.

Trump increases China tariffs as stocks tumble amid latest trade tensions
President posts odd tweet blaming markets’ jitters on largely unknown House Democrat

A container ship sits docked at the Port of Oakland in Oakland, California. President Donald Trump and China traded barbs again Friday in an escalating trade battle that has prompted global recession fears. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

Capping an extraordinary day of major power muscle-flexing and more odd presidential behavior, Donald Trump on Friday answered a tariffs threat from Beijing by increasing coming import duties on $550 billion worth of Chinese-made items.

“Sadly, past Administrations have allowed China to get so far ahead of Fair and Balanced Trade that it has become a great burden to the American Taxpayer. As President, I can no longer allow this to happen! In the spirit of achieving Fair Trade, we must Balance this very....” he wrote in a tweet before adding in another: “..unfair Trading Relationship. China should not have put new Tariffs on 75 BILLION DOLLARS of United States product (politically motivated!).”

Energy, Health departments at risk for cyberattacks, OMB says
EPA, FCC, FTC also ranked as being ‘at risk,’ with email threats most prevalent

EPA has “significant gaps in cybersecurity capabilities” according to an Office of Management and Budget report. (Caroline Brehman/CQ Roll Call)

Several large federal agencies continue to be at risk for cyberattacks even as the number of cyber incidents reported during fiscal 2018 fell compared with the previous year, the Office of Management and Budget said in a report sent to Congress on Friday.

The number of cyber incidents reported by federal agencies fell 12 percent to 31,107 during fiscal 2018 but “drawing conclusions based on this data point, particularly as agencies have adjusted to several new sets of reporting guidelines over the last few years, would be concerning,” the report said.

David Koch leaves behind legacy of dark money political network
Allies and foes agree libertarian billionaire transformed the nation's politics

David Koch will be remembered for the political fundraising network he and his brother, Charles, built to promote conservative causes. (Dia Dipasupil/Getty Images)

Republican mega-donor David Koch, who helped pioneer a network of often surreptitious organizations aimed at influencing elections and public policy, leaves behind a legacy of dark-money groups and a volatile political landscape.

Koch, one half of the Koch Brothers along with his older brother Charles, died at age 79, the billionaires’ company, Kansas-based Koch Industries, said Friday. David Koch had stepped away from business and politics in 2018 for health reasons and had previously battled cancer, though the company did not say the exact cause of death.

Trump vulnerability in a primary is more fiction than fact
President has solid GOP support, a huge cash advantage, and it’s already late in the process

Former Rep. Mark Sanford of South Carolina is considering a challenge to President Donald Trump for the Republican presidential nomination. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Former South Carolina Rep. Mark Sanford is seriously considering challenging President Donald Trump in the primary, even though he called the idea “preposterous” on many levels. It’s a rare moment when you should take a politician at his word.

Even if you look past the huge hurdles of the president’s popularity among the Republican base and the humongous fundraising advantage, the anti-Trump movement is simply running out of time, and it’s arguably too late to mount a serious presidential campaign at all.

Congress’ new caucus: Wexton gives agritourism a voice

Rep. Jennifer Wexton takes a tour of Barnhouse Brewery in Leesburg, Virginia as part of her a tour of local farms and businesses in Loudoun and Fairfax counties. Wexton announced the formation of a new Agritourism Caucus on Thursday. Nathan Ouellette/CQ Roll Call

If you’ve ever enjoyed a winery or brewery tour, you’ve taken part in agritourism.

Background checks are still on the table for Trump, Chris Murphy says
Connecticut Democrat has doubts about a deal, calling the chances ‘less than 50/50’

Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., is in talks with the White House on background check legislation for gun purchases. (Photo by Caroline Brehman/CQ Roll Call)

Sen. Chris Murphy is working with the White House to keep alive conversations about a potential deal on expanded background checks for gun purchases.

The Connecticut Democrat said Friday he is willing to work with President Donald Trump because lives are at stake, but admits that he sees the chances of passing broad gun control legislation as “less than 50-50.”

Democratic challenger taunts congressman as ‘Devin Nunes’ Cow’ trial starts
‘Devin, if you want to sue someone, sue me,’ Phil Arballo says in digital ad

Rep. Devin Nunes, R-Calif., is the target of a new digital ad by Democratic challenger Phil Arballo. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

A Democratic challenger to Rep. Devin Nunes released a digital ad Friday taunting the California Republican for the string of lawsuits he has launched against his perceived political enemies, including parody Twitter accounts. 

The campaign unveiled the ad to coincide with Nunes reporting to court in his lawsuit against two parody accounts pretending to be his mom and a fictional cow on Twitter, according to a spokesman for Democrat Phil Arballo.

Man who sought internship with Rep. Velázquez later threatened to shoot her
Queens man was arrested by NYPD on Wednesday

Rep. Nydia Velázquez, D-N.Y., was the target of a shooting threat last week, according to her office. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

A Queens, New York, man has been arrested for threatening to shoot Rep. Nydia Velázquez. Less than 48 hours earlier, he had sought an internship with the longtime New York Democrat.

New York police arrested Luke Nammacher on Wednesday, the New York Daily News reported, after authorities were able to trace a call he made last Friday to Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s office in which he said he had a “friend” who wanted to shoot Velázquez.

Moulton drops out of 2020 Democratic presidential race
Massachusetts congressman says he’ll focus on reelection, supporting party’s presidential nominee

Rep. Seth Moulton, D-Mass., gives a high five to a spectator during the Boulder City Damboree Celebration 4th of July parade in Boulder City, Nev., on July 4. Moulton focused primarily on foreign policy and national security during his presidential run, which ended Friday. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Massachusetts Democrat Seth Moulton, who ran on a centrist, pro-military platform that never ignited the Democratic base, on Friday became the fourth Democratic presidential candidate to drop out of the race.

During his brief bid, Moulton, an Iraq veteran and former Marine infantry officer, focused primarily on foreign policy and national security. He defined himself as one of the more moderate candidates in a field that now numbers 21.

GOP members confirm Bernhardt met with group tied to ex-client
Democrats might be focusing on meetings and calls kept off Interior secretary’s official calendar

Secretary of the Interior David Bernhardt testifies during his Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee confirmation hearing on March 28, 2019. (File photo by Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

Republicans on two House committees probing Interior Secretary David Bernhardt acknowledged in a report Thursday that the attorney and former energy lobbyist appeared to have met with the Louisiana Mid-Continent Oil and Gas Association, a trade group affiliated with a former Bernhardt client.

The joint report from Republican staff on the House Oversight and Reform, and Natural Resources committees also said ethics officials at the Interior Department approved the meeting with the trade group. The report, by acknowledging the meeting, may also indicate where the majority Democrats are focusing their examination into whether Bernhardt kept phone calls and meetings with industry representatives and groups off his public calendar.

US military bases lack digital security oversight, audit finds
GAO report says most service branches not monitoring digital access to facilities

The Government Accountability Office found that the Army, Navy and Marine Corps do not monitor digital access systems for their facilities. (Douglas Graham/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Most military service branches are not monitoring whether or how more than 100 of their installations are using digital security systems to control access to facilities, according to an audit made public Thursday.

The Government Accountability Office’s finding comes nearly 18 years after the Sept. 11 attacks, almost a decade after an armed assailant killed or wounded 45 people at Fort Hood in Texas and nearly six years after a gunman killed or wounded 16 people at the Washington Navy Yard.

Why do you have to come to Iowa if you want to be president?
CQ on Congress, Episode 166

Democratic presidential candidate and South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg speaks at a campaign event in Fairfield, Iowa on Thursday August 15, 2019. (Photo by Caroline Brehman/CQ Roll Call)

Trump, self-described ‘Chosen One,’ heads to G-7 looking for ‘respect’
President heads to France summit after an odd, chaotic week — even by his standards

President Donald Trump speaks to the media before departing the White House on Wednesday, a gaggle during which he called himself “The Chosen One” and gestured toward the heavens. He leaves Friday night for a G7 summit in France. (Mark Wilson/Getty Images)

Look out, Biarritz, here comes “The Chosen One.

The chic resort town on France’s picturesque Basque coastline will host a G-7 summit this weekend amid worries about a global recession and fraying alliances in Europe and Asia. President Donald Trump — who used that moniker Wednesday to describe himself as a savior in a decades-old trade dispute with China despite so far failing to resolve a single issue — will be center stage after one of the most erratic and strange weeks of his wild presidency.

Should we all just throw away our impeachment position trackers?
Tracking support for an impeachment inquiry no longer relevant since Judiciary panel claims one’s underway

Protesters gather in front of the White House for a rally and candlelight vigil on July 18, 2018. The protest was one of more than 100 events around the country following a dozen indictments in special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s Russia probe. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)

ANALYSIS — Several news outlets, including CQ Roll Call, have kept tallies of the House Democrats who have called for impeachment proceedings against President Donald Trump for months. It may be time to throw them out.

The media lists of Democrats who support an impeachment inquiry — counts vary slightly by news outlet — are effectively meaningless now that Judiciary Chairman Jerrold Nadler and other senior Democrats say his panel’s investigation into Trump’s alleged misdeeds is equivalent to one.

Coming soon to Fairport, NY: The Louise and Bob Slaughter Post Office
President Trump signed legislation naming the facility for the late New York Democrat

A post office in Fairport, N.Y. is set to be named for the late Rep. Louise Slaughter, D-N.Y., and her husband. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)

A post office in Fairport, N.Y. is on its way to being named for the late Rep. Louise Slaughter and her late husband Bob. President Donald Trump signed into law this week legislation to rename a postal facility in the couple’s hometown. 

Slaughter, who died at age 88 in March 2018, was a trailblazer in the House. First elected in 1986, she was the first woman to chair the Rules Committee, mentored female lawmakers, pushed for the Violence Against Women Act and was a founding member of the Congressional Pro-Choice Caucus.