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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Walden Won’t Give Odds on Horse Racing Bill Leaving the Gate
He urges colleagues not to mix betting and horse doping

House Energy and Commerce Chairman Rep. Greg Walden says he’s open to advancing a proposal to regulate parts of the horse racing industry. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)

House Energy and Commerce Chairman Greg Walden said Friday he remained open to advancing a bipartisan proposal that would establish a national authority for regulating doping and medication in horse racing.

But after a raucous Digital Commerce and Consumer Protection Subcommittee hearing that revealed an industry divided over how to address the issue, the Oregon Republican was unwilling to commit to moving a proposal from GOP Rep. Andy Barr of Kentucky. Barr’s bill has 125 co-sponsors, 75 of them Democrats.

Analysis: Donald Trump’s No Good, Very Bad Week
‘I cannot think ... of a similar terrible week’ for any POTUS, veteran Republican says

President Donald Trump makes a remark to the media as he arrives for a House Republican caucus meeting at the Capitol on Tuesday. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

The self-created child migrant crisis was bad enough for Donald Trump, but then he insulted a well-respected House Republican and refused to help leaders pass an immigration overhaul bill many feel is key to their re-election. Republicans reacted angrily, with one party veteran declaring this is Trump’s “Katrina moment.”

The president was riding high as Air Force One ferried him back from his summit with North Korea’s Kim Jong Un last week. Top aides planned a quiet Friday, wanting to ride the perceived momentum into the weekend. Then Trump, without the input of aides, walked out to the North Lawn to talk to Fox News anchor Steve Doocy and then other reporters.

Parkland Students Still Getting Pressed on ‘Genuine’ Activism
Deutch: ‘There is nothing more happening here than people who experienced something … and decided to do something about it’

Protesters gather in front of the Capitol before joining the student-led March for Our Lives on March 24. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Rain Valladares wiped tears from her eyes this week as she recounted the hours before a gunman invaded the halls of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, with an AR-15 and killed 17.

But she was in Washington to talk about the future of activism, not the past.

House Passes Bipartisan Opioid Bill Package
Bill ‘does not adequately deal with the magnitude of the crisis,’ Pallone says

House Energy and Commerce Chairman Greg Walden of Oregon helped put together the opioids package that passed Friday. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

The House on Friday passed a bill that will serve as the legislative vehicle for many of the 55 other House-passed bills designed to curb opioid addiction, ending two weeks of floor votes on opioids measures.

The catchall bill, which advanced 396-14, would incorporate a number of proposals from the Energy and Commerce and the Ways and Means committees relating to Medicaid, Medicare, and public health. A group of 161 patient advocacy groups wrote to Speaker Paul D. Ryan and Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi this week in support of the legislation.

Supreme Court Dials Up Privacy Rights on Cellphone Records
Government must get a warrant to access a cellphone user’s location data

Supreme Court Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr., writing for the majority, said the location information collected by companies is “an entirely different species of business record.” (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)

The Supreme Court on Friday boosted protections for cellphone records that reveal a user’s location and movements over extended periods of time, in a major privacy decision for the internet age.

The majority, in a 5-4 opinion, required the government in most cases to obtain a warrant to get a cellphone user’s location data from phone providers because it is a search under the Fourth Amendment. The decision highlights modern-day concerns about how much personal information can be gleaned from such data.

Photos of the Week: Immigration Protests and the Congressional Women’s Softball Game
Photos of the week of June 18 as captured by Roll Call's photographers

Aruna Miller, who is running for the Democratic nomination in Maryland’s 6th Congressional District, talks with citizens during early voting at the Activity Center at Bohrer Park in Gaithersburg, Md., on Monday. She stands behind the electioneering line which prevents a candidate from being too close to a voting site. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

As always, it was a busy week in Washington as the summer heat hits in full force. The issue of families being separated at the border dominated Hill hearings and led to several protests throughout the capital city.

The Congressional Women’s Softball Game took place on Wednesday with the press team defeating the Congress team 5-0 in a five-inning victory that was called due to rain.

Trump Endorses Higgins While Giuliani Campaigns for Challenger
Giuliani’s girlfriend works for Louisiana Republican’s primary opponent

A Louisiana politician described the dueling endorsements in Rep. Clay Higgins ’ re-election race as a “National Enquirer-type situation.” (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

President Donald Trump and his lawyer are split on the Republican primary for Louisiana’s 3rd District.

The president’s daughter-in-law Lara Trump, who serves as a senior adviser to his campaign, announced Trump’s endorsement of incumbent Rep. Clay Higgins in a statement on Thursday.

Trump Backs Roby After Initial Icy Relationship
Roby said Trump should drop out in 2016, faces runoff for House seat

Rep. Martha Roby, R-Ala., received the support of President Donald Trump in a tweet on Friday. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

President Donald Trump endorsed Alabama Rep. Martha Roby ahead of her primary runoff in the latest twist in their fraught relationship.

Trump tweeted his support for the 2nd District congresswoman on Friday morning, calling her a “consistent and reliable vote for our Make America Great Again agenda.”

Rep. Scott Taylor Behind $11,842 in Property Taxes
Spokesman says Virginia Republican rep was distracted by campaigning and House business

A spokesman for Rep. Scott Taylor said the congressman had been preoccupied by his primary and business in Washington and forgot to pay his taxes. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Virginia Rep. Scott Taylor is $11,842 behind in property taxes, interests and penalty charges for his rental properties in Norfolk and Virginia Beach.

An analysis of city and property tax records by The Virginian-Pilot found that Taylor, who is a real estate investor, was delinquent for six rental houses, a duplex and a vacant lot in Norfolk and a townhouse in Virginia Beach.

Trump to GOP: Stop ‘Wasting' Time on Immigration
President, Schumer, Ryan agree current Congress unlikely to pass a bill

House Speaker Paul D. Ryan escorts President Donald Trump to a House Republican caucus meeting on Tuesday. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

Updated 8:49 a.m. | With a compromise measure stalled in the House, President Donald Trump on Friday urged Republican lawmakers to “stop wasting their time” pursuing an immigration overhaul bill until after November’s midterm elections.

That House immigration bill is merely a compromise among the chamber’s GOP leadership and its various conservative and moderate factions. It is not expected to get any Democratic support and appears to lack the GOP votes to pass — like a conservative measure that flopped on the floor Thursday.

Lawmakers Call for More Resources for Separated Migrant Children
Murray questions whether HHS can handle the situation

Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., said she was troubled by the lack of information from the administration about the children in its care. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Lawmakers and public health groups on Thursday urged the Trump administration to commit more resources to the health needs of the immigrant children who have been separated from their families at the border.

Even as Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar visited the Texas-Mexico border with first lady Melania Trump, questions remained about whether the department has adequate funding to handle the situation and how much more might be needed.

Energy Panel Advances Bills to Support New Nuclear Plants
Bills will help maintain nuclear in the domestic electricity mix, lawmakers say

Michigan Rep. Fred Upton, who chairs the Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Energy, says the bills will help establish a coherent and defined federal nuclear policy. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)

A quartet of bills meant to ease the path to commercialization of new nuclear reactors moved out of a House Energy and Commerce subcommittee Thursday.

The bills are intended to speed up Nuclear Regulatory Commission licensing for so-called advanced reactors, including smaller units, and to spur a domestic fuel supply. Lawmakers have proposed the bills as a way to help nuclear retain its place in a domestic electricity mix increasingly powered by natural gas and cheap renewable sources, such as wind and solar.

Defense Officials: US Needs Coordinated China Tech Strategy
“China is the embodiment of the military technology transfer challenge”

Michael Griffin, under secretary of Defense for research and engineering, says it’s time to look at China’s efforts as a whole, not as a series of individual actions. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

Chinese efforts to acquire U.S. intellectual property and technology are pervasive and not limited to cyber theft, defense and intelligence officials told members of the House Armed Services Committee on Thursday.

Beijing is also investing in U.S. companies, sending students to American universities, embarking on joint business ventures and cheating on trade agreements, said Anthony Schinella, national intelligence officer for military issues at the Office of the Director of National Intelligence.

House GOP Farm Bill Passes; Compromise With Senate Next
Senate bill expected on the floor next week

House Agriculture Chairman K. Michael Conaway says the farm bill vote was about “providing certainty” to struggling farmers and ranchers. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)

The House on Thursday passed, 213-211, the Republican-written farm bill that seeks to restructure the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, a month after a stinging defeat when the legislation became embroiled in an unrelated battle over immigration legislation.

The vote “was about providing certainty to farmers & ranchers who have been struggling under a 5yr recession & about providing our neighbors in need w/ more than just a hand out, but a hand up,″ House Agriculture Chairman K. Michael Conaway wrote on Twitter after the bill passed. There was no floor debate.

Vote on Compromise Immigration Bill Further Delayed Until Next Week
GOP lawmakers seek additional changes to the measure

House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif.,Speaker of the House Paul Ryan, R-Wisc., and House Majority Whip Steve Scalise, R-La., participate in the House GOP leadership press conference after the House Republican Conference meeting in the Capitol on Wednesday, June 6, 2018. (Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

House Republican leaders are further delaying a vote on a compromise immigration bill, planning to make changes to the legislation for a vote next week.

The measure was originally scheduled for a vote Thursday evening. GOP leaders had decided early that afternoon to push it off until Friday because members still had questions about the contents of the bill. But the disarray extended well beyond confusion over the bill