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 proposal would roll back transgender, abortion protections
HHS says new regulation would save $3.6 billion in the first five years

Abortion opponents demonstrate outside the Supreme Court in June 2018. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

The Department of Health and Human Services on Friday proposed to roll back protections under the 2010 health care law related to sex discrimination, which some advocates worry could affect health care access for people who are lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender.

The proposal would reverse an Obama-era policy that protected gender identity and termination of pregnancy under non-discrimination protections.

‘Reluctant impeachment’: Will Pelosi ever be swayed to go there?
Democrats understand the speaker’s cautious approach to impeachment but believe she can be convinced

Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., leaves a House Democratic Caucus meeting Wednesday, May 22, 2019 in which her members debated whether it’s time to open an impeachment inquiry. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

Will Speaker Nancy Pelosi ever come to a point where she is ready to lead her caucus in opening an impeachment inquiry against President Donald Trump?

The California Democrat hasn’t ruled it out, despite strong signals she wants to avoid the divisive move and let the voters decide in 2020 whether to punish Trump for his alleged misdeeds. 

Supreme Court delays redrawing of Ohio and Michigan House districts
Lower-court rulings found partisan gerrymandering, ordered new maps within months

The Supreme Court on Friday put on hold orders from lower courts for Michigan and Ohio to redraw their congressional maps.  (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)

The Supreme Court on Friday put a hold on lower-court decisions mandating that Ohio and Michigan draw new congressional maps this year.  

Federal three-judge panels had struck down portions of Michigan’s map and all of Ohio’s map as partisan gerrymanders in separate cases earlier this spring. The court ordered Michigan to draw a new map by Aug. 1, while the Ohio was given a June 14 deadline.

‘Grab your popcorn if you’re watching C-SPAN’: Congressional Hits and Misses
Week of May 20, 2019

Speaker Nancy Pelosi leaves the Capitol for a meeting at the White House with President Donald Trump. It didn’t go well. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

“Buckle your seat belts, grab your popcorn if you’re out there watching C-SPAN,” Rep. Hank Johnson said during a rollercoaster week on the Hill.

Who is Rep. Chip Roy?
Texas freshman who blocked disaster bill is a top Democratic target in 2020

Rep. Chip Roy, R-Texas, and White House counselor Kellyanne Conway talk in the House chamber on Feb. 5 before President Donald Trump delivered his State of the Union address. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Updated 6:03 p.m. | Rep. Chip Roy’s decision to stall a disaster aid bill Friday is bringing new attention to the conservative freshman whom Democrats are looking to unseat in 2020. 

The Texas Republican blocked a request to pass the $19.1 billion package by unanimous consent, raising concerns that the funds were not offset and that the package lacked money to process migrants at the southern border. 

‘I can work with the speaker,’ Trump declares amid war of words with Pelosi
President will deploy 1,500 U.S. troops to Middle East amid tensions with Iran

President Donald Trump speaks during a rally at the Williamsport Regional Airport in Montoursville, Pa., on Monday night. (Photo By Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

President Donald Trump on Friday contended he is willing to work with Speaker Nancy Pelosi after the two traded sharp criticisms following him blowing up a Wednesday meeting about a now-scuttled possible infrastructure plan.

“I can work with the speaker,” he said. “Did you hear what she said about me long before I went after her? … I just responded in kind. You think Nancy’s the same as she was? She’s not. I think we can all say that.”

Rep. Nadler appears to ‘almost pass out,’ gets medical help at event
The New York Rep. was at a press conference with New York Mayor Bill de Blasio

Chairman Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y., talks to the media after the last vote before the Memorial Day recess at the Capitol in Washington on Thursday May 23, 2019. On Friday at a New York event with New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio he appeared to almost pass out. (Caroline Brehman/CQ Roll Call)

House Judiciary Chairman Jerrold Nadler came close to collapse in his home state of New York while attending an event with Mayor Bill de Blasio.

At a Friday press conference in New York City, de Blasio came to Nadler’s aid, offering water and making sure the fellow Democrat was feeling alright. The press conference was held at P.S. 199 in the Upper West Side of Manhattan. 

Some House members are contemplating retirement, according to history
GOP departures last cycle helped fuel Democrats’ takeover

The decision by Rep. José E. Serrano, D-N.Y., to retire isn’t likely to affect the 2020 election map, since Hillary Clinton carried his district by 89 points in 2016. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)

As the unofficial kickoff of summer, Memorial Day is a time to remember the fallen, spend time with family and grill meats. But history tells us it’s also a time for more than a handful of members to reconsider their future in the House.

Going back to 1976, an average of 23 House members have not sought re-election or another office each election cycle. So far this cycle, just four have made that decision, which means more retirements will come and competitive open seats could change the fight for the majority.

Worries persist despite additional billions for census
Concerns about potential undercounting remain among lawmakers from both parties, even with increased funding

Ranking member Rep. Robert Aderholt, D-Ala., conducts a House Appropriations Commerce, Justice, Science, and Related Agencies Subcommittee hearing on April 4, 2019. Aderhold said that while a new Census funding bill would put the bureau in “good shape,” he’s concerned the country may be facing a “trial run” for the new system that relies for the first time on online responses. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

House appropriators this week included a hefty boost for the 2020 census above the proposal from the Trump administration, but concerns about potential undercounting remain among lawmakers from both parties.

They fear that despite the additional money, the Commerce Department hasn’t adequately geared up for decennial population count. Democrats continue to oppose a controversial citizenship question they say will depress immigrant response, while some Republicans worry that the use of online questionnaires will lead to shortfalls in rural areas.

Photos of the Week: Pre-Memorial Day weekend edition
The week of May 20 as captured by Roll Call’s photojournalists

Former vice president and current Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden tosses his jacket as he arrives for his 2020 campaign kickoff rally in Philadelphia  on Saturday. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

We started off the week with politicians throwing articles of clothing from the stage, and wrapped it up with a tornado warning in Washington.

GOP Rep. causes $19.1 billion disaster aid bill to stall in House
The package had been passed in the Senate after border-related funding, sought by the White House, was removed

Rep. Chip Roy, R-Texas, left, and Rep. Carol Miller, R-W.Va., listen during the House Oversight and Reform Committee markup on April 2, 2019. He said Friday that he would block a unanimous consent request to block a $19.1 billion supplemental appropriations bill for victims of recent natural disasters. (Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

The House was unable to clear a $19.1 billion disaster aid bill Friday, after a freshman GOP lawmaker objected to a unanimous consent request.

Rep. Chip Roy, R-Texas, blocked the measure during the chamber's pro forma session, after telling reporters he had concerns about the process as well as the substance of the legislation.

Here’s what House Democrats are saying about impeaching Trump
CQ on Congress podcast, Episode 154

Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., says that President Trump “is engaged in a coverup” and House committee investigations “may take us to place that is unavoidable in terms of impeachment or not but we're not at that place.” (Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

Democrat Jamie Raskin of Maryland, who sits on the House Judiciary Committee that would lead an impeachment inquiry, says he believes President Donald Trump has committed high crimes, both in obstructing Special Counsel Robert S. Mueller’s investigation and in refusing to cooperate with congressional investigators. CQ Roll Call senior politics reporter Simone Pathé talks about her interviews this week with Democrats from competitive House districts. They told her they are more open to beginning impeachment proceedings because of Trump’s refusal to cooperate with congressional investigators.

Show Notes:

Why does Alexa save transcripts of user conversations? This senator asked Amazon
Sen. Chris Coons wants to know why Amazon Echo users’ conversations are being saved to company servers

Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, center, is pictured in the Capitol in June 2016. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

A Democratic senator sent a letter to Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos Thursday requesting information about why the company retains transcripts of conversations recorded by Amazon Echo devices, even after users have pressed “delete.”

Amazon’s voice-controlled operating system Alexa transcribes the conversations it picks up after users say a “wake word” — “Alexa,” “Echo,” “Amazon” or “computer” — or press a button to enable the Echo, according to a report by CNET. And the company saves those text files on its servers even after users opt to “delete” the audio files from the cloud, a CNET investigation revealed.

Pressure mounts on expiring Medicaid programs for U.S. territories, safety net hospitals
Advocates worry the two programs will need more funding by the end of the fiscal year

Participants hold signs during the Senate Democrats’ rally against Medicaid cuts in front of the U.S. Capitol on June 6, 2017. Advocated are worried about two Medicaid programs that need additional funding before the end of the fiscal year — U.S. territories’ programs and funding for safety net hospitals. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Advocates are worried about two Medicaid programs that need additional funding before the end of the fiscal year — U.S. territories’ programs and funding for safety net hospitals.

The end of September marks a number of government deadlines, but advocates and government officials worry that a lack of funding for these two Medicaid programs would be worrisome and could be overlooked.

3 things to watch: ‘Low expectations’ for Trump’s trip to meet Japan’s new emperor
‘I don’t think that the purpose of this trip is to focus on trade,’ administration official says

President Donald Trump and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe hold a news conference at Mar-a-Lago in April 2018. The two leaders will spend another few days together when Trump visits Japan Saturday through Tuesday. (Joe Raedle/Getty Images file photo)

President Donald Trump will land in Japan on Saturday for a series of high-level meetings, but White House officials and experts say to expect a trip heavy on pomp-and-circumstance and light on substance.

In a sign of how important the U.S.-Japanese relationship is to the Asian country, Trump will become the first foreign leader to meet its new emperor, Naruhito. He will also meet several times with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe for discussions on a list of issues ranging from trade to North Korea.