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.

View from the gallery: Hardly enough time to fidget
Rare Senate weekend session only lasts two hours

Tennessee Sen. Lamar Alexander arrives at the Capitol on Saturday for the continuation of the impeachment trial of President Donald Trump. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

It’s a Saturday, but nearly all the senators were in their workday suits and ties. The Kentucky delegation was one exception, with both Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Rand Paul wearing khakis and blazers.

This was the fifth straight day in the Senate chamber of the third presidential impeachment trial in U.S. history, and the 100 senators appeared for just two hours during a brief and rare weekend session when President Donald Trump’s team started its opening presentation.

Impeachment trial’s Saturday session is a short one
In first day of Trump defense team presentation, an eye on the clock

White House counsel Pat Cipollone, left, and lawyer Jordan Sekulow arrive at the Capitol on Saturday before the continuation of the impeachment trial of President Donald Trump. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

President Donald Trump’s lawyers briefly laid out his defense Saturday at the Senate impeachment trial, focusing their attacks on what they called a lack of evidence, the actions of lead House manager Adam B. Schiff and a flawed House investigation.

Trump’s legal team did not make arguments about former Vice President Joe Biden or his son Hunter Biden. Trump and some Republican senators have focused on that issue for the president’s defense that his Ukraine dealings were meant to uncover corruption, not ask the country’s president to influence the 2020 presidential elections in exchange for releasing military aid.

Impeachment news roundup: Jan. 25
Trump’s defense takes center stage

House impeachment managers Adam B. Schiff, right, Jerrold Nadler, left, and aides are seen in the Capitol Rotunda on Saturday walking evidence to the Senate floor before the continuation of the impeachment trial of President Donald Trump. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

File updated 12:12 p.m.

The Senate convened for a rare Saturday session as a court of impeachment today, and it was President Donald Trump’s legal team’s turn to begin laying out its case.

View from the gallery: Senators suffer through sniffles and sleepiness at Trump trial
House managers wrap up their presentation before an increasingly restless Senate

South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham is surrounded by reporters Friday as he arrives for the Senate Republicans’ lunch before the start of the day’s impeachment trial proceedings. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

South Carolina Republican Lindsey Graham, one of the president’s fiercest defenders in the Senate, chuckled, bowed his head slightly and rubbed his left eyebrow.

Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer and California Sen. Dianne Feinstein laughed and met the eyes of their knowing Democratic colleagues.

House managers focus on Trump’s ‘defiance’ in closing of impeachment presentation
Trump’s defense team will make the president’s case Saturday

House impeachment managers Zoe Lofgren and Adam B. Schiff, center, walk through the Ohio Clock Corridor on Friday on their way to a news conference before the start of the day’s impeachment trial proceedings. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

House impeachment managers on Friday concluded their third and final day of arguments to remove President Donald Trump from office by focusing on the House investigation and appealing to authority and emotion.

Lead manager Adam B. Schiff, a former federal prosecutor, forcefully laid out the House’s case in his closing statement, arguing that Trump would “remain a threat to the Constitution” if he were allowed to remain in office. 

Comic Maz Jobrani is seriously funny about politics
Political Theater, Episode 109

Comedian and actor Maz Jobrani has thoughts about Washington, performance in the Trump era and hanging out in the fake West Wing. (Don Emmert/AFP via Getty Images)

What a time to be heckled by Trump supporters when you’re an Iranian American comedian!

Ph.D. dropout and comic Maz Jobrani takes Heard on the Hill’s Kathryn Lyons “back to school” to talk Trump hecklers, his least favorite 2020 candidate and what it’s like to be in the fake West Wing in the latest Political Theater podcast

Schiff’s emotional closing appeals set expectations for his Friday finale
Former prosecutor tries to appeal to GOP senators’ sense of right and wrong

House impeachment managers Adam B. Schiff, D-Calif., left, and Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y., are wrapping up their arguments in the impeachment trial of President Donald Trump. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

Rep. Adam B. Schiff’s prosecutorial tone changed considerably at the end of the first two days of President Donald Trump’s impeachment trial, a preview that his presentation finale Friday night will feature loftier rhetoric about showing courage and doing what’s right, even when it risks a career.

“Every night we say, ‘Adam save it for the end,’ and every night he outdoes the night before,” Ohio Democratic Sen. Sherrod Brown said.

Analysis: The Pentagon has a credibility problem, and it’s only getting worse
The Defense Department’s waffling on casualties from Jan. 8 Iran strike latest in a growing trend

Secretary of Defense Mark Esper, left, and Gen. Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, arrive for a briefing in Capitol Visitor Center for a closed-door briefing about Syria on Oct. 17. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

Americans breathed a collective sigh of relief when, the morning after Iran’s Jan. 8 ballistic missile attack on Al Asad air base in Iraq, Defense Department leaders said there were “no casualties.” 

That initial assessment hasn't held up, and neither have the department's varying statements on the matter since then.

At March for Life, Trump gets an enthusiastic reception
‘The unborn have never had a stronger defender in the White House,’ president says

Charissa DiCamillo, 18, of Glenmore, Pa., demonstrates on Constitution Avenue in Washington on Friday during the annual March for Life. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

President Donald Trump, seeking to court evangelical voters, addressed thousands of activists gathered Friday on the National Mall for the nation's largest annual anti-abortion rally.

Trump, who this week revealed his “Pro-Life Voices for Trump” coalition for his 2020 reelection campaign, has strong ties to the anti-abortion community and is the first president to speak onstage at the event. Activists see him as a key ally in delivering policy priorities aimed at limiting abortion that he promised in 2016.

US ready for potential coronavirus outbreak, CDC assures lawmakers
CDC officials said they currently have the resources needed to address the spread of the virus

Sen. Richard Durbin, D-Ill., departs from a news conference on Tuesday. He told reporters Friday that federal health officials had positive things to say about China’s response to the coronavirus outbreak. (Caroline Brehman/CQ Roll Call)

Federal health officials told lawmakers Friday that they have the resources they need to address the spread of the virus originating from Wuhan, China, although senators acknowledged the potential need for supplemental funding down the road.

The briefing for roughly two dozen senators came as the case count for the new version of coronavirus in China was rapidly increasing, prompting authorities there to effectively quarantine tens of millions of people in Wuhan and surrounding cities. China’s National Health Commission reported 571 cases and 17 deaths as of Thursday, though news reports on Friday said there were now more than 800 cases and at least 26 deaths.

Executive privilege standoff could roil Trump impeachment trial timeline
‘Do we recess then, or what do we do?’

Sen. Elizabeth Warren said the Senate should not ‘pack our bags and go home.’ (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

A legal fight over executive privilege in the middle of the Senate’s impeachment trial of President Donald Trump could put it into suspended animation.

If senators ultimately decide to subpoena Trump administration documents or seek witness testimony, House Democratic managers might have to decide whether to now wage court battles that were avoided during the House phase of the impeachment process.

What's in an impeachment trial?
CQ on Congress, ep 183

House impeachment managers Reps. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., left, and Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y., are seen in the Capitol before the continuation of the impeachment trial of President Donald Trump on Thursday, January 23, 2020. (Photo By Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

‘We gotta go, the trial started at 1 o’clock!’ — Congressional Hits and Misses
Week of Jan. 20, 2020

Capitol workers wind the Ohio Clock in the Capitol on Tuesday. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

This is what a giant pile of impeachment candy looks like
If anyone is happy this week, it’s the National Confectioners Association

This is what an impeachment trial looks like. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

If you’re wondering how the Senate impeachment trial is going, consider this historic photo.

A pallet of candy stands outside Sen. Pat Toomey’s office, shrink-wrapped. Notice the Hershey’s bars (milk chocolate with almonds). And the Rolos. And the stray Mike and Ikes (flavor: berry blast).

Democrats pick women from key 2020 states for State of the Union response
Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and Texas Rep. Veronica Escobar to follow Trump

Texas Rep. Veronica Escobar will give the Democrats’ Spanish-language response to President Donald Trump’s State of the Union address next month. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Democratic leaders announced Friday that Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and Texas Rep. Veronica Escobar, who both hail from critical 2020 states, will give the responses to President Donald Trump’s State of the Union address on Feb. 4.

Whitmer leads Michigan, a top presidential and congressional battleground that Trump won by less than half a percentage point in 2016. Escobar, who will give the Spanish-language response to the president’s address, represents a deep-blue district in Texas, where Democrats are hoping to make gains in the state’s diversifying suburbs.