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 Wants $5 Billion for Border Wall Amid Shutdown Threat
President continues to peg immigration issue as a winner for the GOP

Hundreds of women crowd the atrium of the Hart Senate Office Building to protest President Trump's immigration policy on June 28. On Monday, he called for $3.4 billion more for his southern border wall than GOP and Democratic senators are proposing. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)

President Donald Trump laid down a key marker for the autumn federal funding debate, saying Monday he wants around $5 billion this year for his proposed U.S.-Mexico border wall. The demand could increase the odds of a government shutdown.

The amount he endorsed during a White House immigration event, which he also touted last week at a fundraiser in Utica, N.Y., is the same as that proposed in a House Homeland Security funding measure for next fiscal year. But there’s a catch: the Senate’s version of that funding measure proposes only $1.6 billion for the project.

FiscalNote Finalizes $180 Million Acquisition of CQ Roll Call
Deal brings together rapidly-growing technology company with two of the oldest brands in Washington journalism

CQ Roll Call was acquired Monday by FiscalNote, a rapidly growing Washington-based company that uses technology to track and analyze legislation around the world. (Thomas McKinless/CQ Roll Call file photo)

A Russian Oligarch Bought Maryland’s Election Vendor. Now These Senators Are Questioning the Rules
Letter to Rules Committee follows request to Treasury Secretary Mnuchin

Sens. Chris Van Hollen and Benjamin L. Cardin are concerned about Russian ownership of a Maryland election contractor. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Maryland’s Democratic senators want a Senate committee to require disclosures of foreign investments in U.S. election systems, an alarm bell set off by a Russian oligarch’s connection to their state’s voter registration system. 

The request to the Rules and Administration Committee comes from Sen. Benjamin L. Cardin and Sen. Chris Van Hollen. Van Hollen is also the chairman of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee.

These GOP Lawmakers Gave Money to California Gas Tax Repeal Push
Party leaders open their campaign committee wallets for an issue that could energize Republican voters

The campaign committee for Mimi Walters and an associated PAC have loaned or contributed $339,000 to Yes on 6. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)

A handful of Republican House members are among the largest contributors to a campaign to repeal California’s gas tax boost, one that could draw party voters to the polls in competitive congressional districts.

The seven lawmakers include House Speaker Paul D. Ryan of Wisconsin and second-term Rep. Mimi Walters of California. They have contributed or loaned more than $1 million of the $2.2 million received by a group called “Yes on 6, Repeal the Gas Tax,” according to second-quarter state election reports filed July 31.

Dems Want to Know If Bolton Told White House About Contact With Alleged Spy
National security adviser appeared with Butina at gun rights roundtable when he worked for NRA

National Security Adviser John Bolton reportedly appeared with alleged Russian spy Maria Butina when he was a top official with the National Rifle Association. (Mark Wilson/Getty Images file photo)

Top Democrats on the House Oversight Committee want to know if National Security Adviser John Bolton told the White House about his reported contact with alleged Russian spy Maria Butina before he was appointed by President Trump. 

Bolton appeared with Butina in a video roundtable discussion about gun rights, reportedly sponsored by the Russian organization Right to Bear Arms, in his previous position as a top National Rifle Association official, Democrats Elijah Cummings and Stephen Lynch wrote in a letter to White House Chief of Staff John Kelly delivered Monday. 

Trump Administration Hears Day One of China Tariff Pleas
Six public hearings on import duties began Monday amid worries, hopes

President Donald Trump departs the White House on July 31. His administration kicked off six days of hearings on proposed tariffs on imports from China. (Win McNamee/Getty Images file photo)

Importers told government officials Monday that very little product manufacturing will return to the United States, saying Chinese manufacturers have the expertise to produce at high volume and lower prices.

The comments came as the Trump administration began public hearings on proposed tariffs on $200 billion in imports from China. While business leaders in some industries are hopeful that the tariffs will offer protection against competitors using cheaper imported Chinese goods, others worry about potential financial hardships.

Brennan Fracas Could Rip Through Senate’s Defense Spending Debate
Security clearances, abortion among amendment topics floated

Senate Intelligence Vice Chairman Mark Warner, here with Chairman Richard Burr, says he plans to introduce an amendment to the 2019 defense spending bill that would block the president from revoking security clearances. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

The Senate is ready to start voting on amendments to the fiscal 2019 Defense spending bill, possibly including several that could stir spirited debate.

Senators have only agreed so far to vote on two relatively uncontroversial amendments to the the two-bill package that includes both the $675 billion Defense bill and the $179.3 billion Labor-HHS-Education measure. Those first two votes are scheduled for Monday evening.

Report: Farenthold Tried to Steer Contract to Businessman Who Later Got Him Lucrative Job
Disgraced congressman complained of ‘f-tards’ who drove him out of office amid #metoo scandal

Former Rep. Blake Farenthold, R-Texas, continues to attract controversy months after he resigned in disgrace amid a sexual harassment scandal. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

Blake Farenthold, who resigned from Congress in disgrace amid a sexual harassment scandal, tried to steer a federal contract to a business owned by the chairman of a Texas port authority who donated almost $20,000 to his campaign and later gave him a job, according to a local newspaper investigation published Monday. 

The Calhoun Port Authority’s secret decision to award Farenthold that  $13,333-a-month lobbying gig shortly after his May ouster from Congress has sparked local controversy and is at the center of a lawsuit filed by The Victoria Advocate. 

Trump Essentially Dares Brennan to Sue Over Stripped Clearance
President wants former CIA director’s ‘records, texts, emails and documents’

President Trump and his legal team are essentially daring former CIA Director John Brennan to sue the president over a terminated security clearance. (Photo By Chris Maddaloni/CQ Roll Call)

Donald Trump on Monday essentially dared former CIA Director John Brennan to sue him over the security clearance the president revoked last week.

Trump ordered Brennan’s security clearance turned off after the former Barack Obama aide and Cabinet official harshly criticized the sitting president, even dubbing his performance last month alongside Russian President Vladimir Putin as “treasonous.”

Republicans Won’t Probe Influence of Trump Friends at Veterans Department
Dems have questions about trio named in lawsuit

Veterans Affairs Chairman Johnny Isakson, R-Ga., speaks during a hearing of Veterans Affairs secretary nominee Robert Wilkie in front of the Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee in the Dirksen Senate Office Building Wednesday June 27, 2018. (Photo By Sarah Silbiger/CQ Roll Call)

Updated 3:31 p.m. | Top Republican lawmakers have no plans to examine the alleged influence that a trio of President Donald Trump’s friends have at the Department of Veterans Affairs, even as Democrats call for an investigation.

The controversy peaked in recent weeks after reports that Marvel Entertainment Chairman Ike Perlmutter, Palm Beach doctor Bruce Moskowitz and D.C. lawyer Marc Sherman hold undue sway with VA leadership, including senior adviser Peter O’Rourke, who formerly served as acting secretary. Liberal veterans group VoteVets filed a lawsuit against the administration last week, claiming the VA is violating federal protocol related to private influence in matters of federal policy.

Steve Bannon’s Bleak Message for GOP: Blue Wave=Trump’s Impeachment
Not a typical midterm year, former WH political strategist warns

Steve Bannon, former White House chief strategist to Donald Trump, warns that if Republicans don’t stop the blue wave, the president will face impeachment. (Sean Gallup/Getty Images file photo)

Former White House chief political strategist Steve Bannon has a bleak message for Republicans looking to retain control of the House in the 2018 midterms: If you don’t stop the blue wave, your heads won’t be the only ones that roll — President Donald Trump’s will, too.

Last week, Bannon announced the launch of his initiative, Citizens of the American Republic, to help the GOP keep its House majority by tying a Democratic victory in November to impeachment.

Hastings Jokes About Trump Drowning in the Potomac
Something is ‘tragically wrong’ with the president, Florida Democrat says

Rep. Alcee Hastings, D-Fla., shown here in May, entertained a crowd at a Democratic rally Sunday with jokes about President Donald Trump. (Sarah Silbiger/CQ Roll Call)

Rep. Alcee Hastings, a Florida Democrat with a reputation for riling Republicans and weathering numerous controversies, entertained a crowd Sunday with a joke about President Donald Trump falling into the Potomac.

The joke, at a rally sponsored by 16 of South Florida’s Broward County Democratic clubs, revolved around the difference between a “crisis” and a “catastrophe.”

Mueller Is ‘Looking for Trouble,’ Trump Says Cryptically
President refers to special counsel team as ‘thugs’ and a ‘gang’

President Donald Trump on Monday ramped up his attacks on Special Counsel Robert S. Mueller III. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

President Donald Trump continued bashing Robert S. Mueller III’s Russia investigation, saying cryptically Monday the special counsel is “looking for trouble.”

Trump alleged in a morning tweet series that the former FBI director is “Disgraced and discredited,” claiming his staff amounts to nothing more than a “group of Angry Democrat Thugs.”

Longtime Ag Committee Member Boswell’s Funeral Services Set
Iowa livestock farmer who served 16 years in the House suffered complications from a rare form of cancer

Rep. Leonard Boswell, D-Iowa, talks with fairgoers at the Iowa Pork Producers Association pavilion at the Iowa State Fair in Des Moines, Iowa, in 2011. (Tom Williams/Roll Call file photo)

Funeral services for Leonard Boswell, a livestock farmer and Vietnam veteran who served for 16 years in the House, will be held Saturday in his native Iowa, according to local media reports. 

Boswell died August 17 at a Des Moines hospital after suffering complications from a rare form of cancer, according to media reports. He was 84. 

DCCC Raises $13.5 Million in July
Committee had $71.5 million on hand as of July 31

DCCC Chairman Ben Ray Luján says the Democratic grass roots “are united around the goal of taking back the House.” (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee raised $13.5 million in July, surpassing past records for the month.

The committee raised $1.6 million more than it did the same month in 2016. Roughly half of the July total came from online donations, according to fundraising numbers provided first to Roll Call.