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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Russell Building Evacuated After Fire
Saturday night incident under investigation, building still closed Sunday

A fire broke out in the Russell Senate Office Building Saturday night. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Fire and smoke in the Russell Senate Office Building prompted an evacuation Saturday night. The building remains closed Sunday morning.

Capitol Police and the Architect of the Capitol personnel are conducting an investigation and all other personnel will be restricted from entering the building.

John Kelly Out as White House Chief of Staff, Trump Says
Nick Ayers, VP Pence’s chief of staff, is leading candidate for job

White House Chief of Staff John Kelly speaks during a White House briefing on Oct. 19. (Win McNamee/Getty Images file photo)

President Donald Trump said Saturday White House Chief of Staff John Kelly will leave his post at the end of the year, concluding a rocky tenure during which he clashed with his boss.

“A great guy,” Trump said of the retired Marine Corps general as he left the White House for the Army-Navy football game in Philadelphia.

3 Takeaways for Trump as Mueller Details Russia’s ‘Political Synergy’ Offer
Special counsel adds intrigue to House Democrats’ expected investigations of 2016 campaign

President Donald Trump arrives back at the White House on Friday from a trip to Kansas City without taking questions from reporters. (Mark Wilson/Getty Images)

President Donald Trump was watching television Friday evening when he reached for his phone after a subdued trip to Kansas City. Though federal court documents did not name him, he felt the need to declare his innocence.

“Totally clears the President. Thank you!” Trump wrote.

Trump to Nominate Top Army General for Joint Chiefs Chairman
Gen. Mark Milley has been Army chief of staff since 2015

Army Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Milley, second from right, applauds President Donald Trump’s State of the Union address in January with, from left, Chief of Naval Operations Adm. John Richardson, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Joseph Dunford, and Commandant of the Marine Corps Gen. Robert Neller. (Win McNamee/Getty Images file photo)

President Donald Trump said Saturday he intends to nominate Army Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Milley to replace Marine Gen. Joseph Dunford as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

The commander-in-chief hinted Friday he intended to make the personnel announcement during the Army-Navy football game he will attend in Philadelphia Saturday.

Mark Harris Open to ‘New Election’ in North Carolina’s 9th District
Harris says he needs to see proof that illegal activity would have changed the results

North Carolina Republican Mark Harris said Friday he would support a new election in the 9th District if illegal activity is found to have changed the results. (John D. Simmons /The Charlotte Observer via AP file photo)

North Carolina Republican Mark Harris said Friday he’s open to a new election in the 9th District, where allegations of election fraud have thrown his victory into question.

The state board of elections is investigating absentee voting irregularities and confirmed Friday that a contractor for the Harris campaign is a person of interest in connection with an alleged absentee ballot operation. 

Harvard Tradition Agitates Democrats’ Left Wing
Number of lobbyists, not identifying some as such, at orientation for incoming Democrats draws criticism

New York Democratic Rep.-elect Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez spoke out against the many corporate interests present at the Harvard Bipartisanship Orientation for New Members. (Mario Tama/Getty Images file photo)

A prestigious, 50-year-old orientation for new members of Congress at Harvard University predicated on the virtues of bipartisanship and civility has drawn intense criticism this week for the presence of lobbyists and business executives — evidence of the growing influence of the left wing of the Democratic Party that has abstained from corporate PAC money.

Most incoming members of Congress attend the storied Bipartisan Program for Newly Elected Members of Congress, which ran from Tuesday to Thursday. Since 1972, the Harvard Institute of Politics has hosted more than 700 current and former representatives, according to the school’s website.

Why Trump’s Call for ‘Overwhelming Bipartisan’ Vote for Barr Seems Unlikely
Wyden: Bush 41-era AG holds ‘anti-democratic’ view that president is ‘effectively royalty’

Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., and Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., flanked by other Senate Democrats, at a news conference in March. The two senators have voiced concerns about President Trump's pick, William Barr, to make his second run as attorney general. (Photo By Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

Donald Trump and acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker on Friday gave a full-throated endorsement to the president’s pick to fill the post, former Attorney General William Barr,  but Democratic senators and civil rights advocates are sounding alarms.

William Barr “deserves” from the Senate “overwhelming bipartisan support,” Trump said while addressing a law enforcement conference in Kansas City. “There’s no one more capable or qualified for this position,” he claimed.

Retiring Kansas Lawmaker Opens Lobbying Shop While Still in Office
Watchdogs say Lynn Jenkins’ new business flouts ethics laws

Retiring Rep. Lynn Jenkins, R-Kan., shown here with House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., and Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, R-Wash., has raised the ire of ethics watchdogs for opening a lobbying firm before she finishes her term. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Retiring Kansas Rep. Lynn Jenkins launched a new lobbying firm in her home state weeks before she officially steps out of public office, according to a local media report published Friday.

Lawmakers are restricted from working as lobbyists until they have been out of office for a year. But the federal law that restricts their activities is porous, and former lawmakers routinely find ways to trade their influence before the prohibition expires.

Scott Fairchild Named DSCC Executive Director
Fairchild is incoming chairwoman Cortez Masto’s chief of staff

Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto, D-Nev., is the incoming DSCC chairwoman. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Nevada Democratic Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto is bringing her chief of staff over to the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, naming Scott Fairchild on Friday as the committee’s new executive director.

Democrats are largely on offense in the 2020 cycle, but they will have to protect vulnerable incumbents including Alabama Sen. Doug Jones. Democrats are defending 12 seats while Republicans are defending 22.

Trump Signs Spending Bill, Setting Up High-Stakes Oval Office Showdown
President will meet Tuesday morning with Pelosi and Schumer

Junior, a migrant from Honduras, waves the American flag while standing with other migrants at the U.S.-Mexico border fence on November 25, 2018 in Tijuana, Mexico. (Mario Tama/Getty Images)

President Donald Trump signed a two-week spending measure Friday that will avert a partial government shutdown, setting up a high-stakes meeting with congressional Democratic leaders who are opposed to his $5 billion border wall funding demand.

The House Appropriations Committee — not the White House — announced in a tweet that the Homeland Security Department and other unfunded agencies would not shut down later Friday. White House press aides had been unable to clearly state when their boss would put pen to paper.

Trump Nominates William Barr as Attorney General
President says he expects quick confirmation

President Donald Trump walks from the West Wing to Marine One on his way to Joint Base Andrews Friday July 20, 2018. (Sarah Silbiger/CQ Roll Call file photo)

President Donald Trump said he expects William Barr will be quickly confirmed by the Senate to lead the Justice Department.

He called the former attorney general “a terrific person” and a “brilliant man.” Trump said he did not know Barr, saying he is “respected by Republicans, respected by Democrats.”

Three Takeaways as Trump Picks Former Fox Anchor for UN Envoy Post
President makes clear he’s running foreign policy, wants salesperson in New York

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo (center) speaks with staff, including spokeswoman Heather Nauert, President Trump's pick for UN ambassador, during a G-20 summit last week in Argentina. (State Department photo by Ron Przysucha / Public Domain via Flickr)

By selecting State Department spokeswoman and former Fox News anchor Heather Nauert as his next UN ambassador, President Donald Trump has further consolidated his control of America’s foreign policy.

“Heather Nauert will be nominated for the ambassador to the United Nations,” Trump told reporters on his way to Marine One on Friday.

Expect Two Wildly Different Stories After James Comey’s House Testimony
Former FBI director not bound by confidentiality agreement, can speak freely after interview

Former FBI Director James Comey will speak with House members behind closed doors Friday but will not be bound by a confidentiality agreement unlike previous witnesses. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Former FBI Director James B. Comey is speaking with lawmakers behind closed doors Friday after reaching a compromise with House Republicans who subpoenaed him to testify about his recommendation in July 2016 not to prosecute Hillary Clinton for using a private email server to conduct official government business.

But unlike all previous witnesses who interviewed with the joint panel of House Judiciary Committee and Oversight and Government Reform Committee members for their probe into potential bias at the FBI and Justice Department in 2016, Comey will not be bound to silence by a confidentiality agreement after the meeting.

Sen.-elect Josh Hawley Faces Misuse of Taxpayer Money Investigation
Secretary of state says it will investigate, AG calls allegations ‘meritless’

Sen.-elect Josh Hawley, R-Mo., faces an investigation into the misuse of taxpayer money to boost his own profile. (Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

The Missouri Secretary of State’s office will investigate allegations that incoming Sen. Josh Hawley improperly tapped state resources to boost his public profile ahead of his campaign to unseat Democratic Sen. Claire McCaskill

Within days of Hawley becoming the state attorney general, two political consultants based in Washington began instructing his taxpayer-paid staff on how to shape his image ahead of a campaign for the Senate, according to a Kansas City Star report shortly before Election Day.

Roger Ailes, the Connection Between Bushworld and Trumpworld
The 41st and 45th president had in common the legendary GOP fixer and Fox News boss

President Donald Trump salutes as First Lady Melania Trump holds her hand over her heart at former President George H.W. Bush's casket in the Capitol Rotunda on Monday, Dec. 3, 2018. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

For all of the contrasts drawn this week between President Donald Trump and President George H.W. Bush, and there are many, the two chief executives did share one thing in common that helped assure their electoral successes: Roger Ailes.

This week’s tributes to Bush, with their emphasis on his gentlemanly public service, optimism and affability, diverge sharply with the current president’s dark, transactional demeanor and outlook. But for all their superficial and substantive differences, they both were aided greatly by Ailes: Bush as an employer of his skills as a strategist and political ad man in the 1988 race and Trump as a recipient of his authority to provide a ready platform on the country’s premiere conservative news channel: Fox News.