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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Arizona Man Gets Prison for Threatening McSally
Steve Martan will serve 15 months in prison, 9 years on probation

A Tuscon man was sentenced to 15 months in prison for threatening Rep. Martha McSally, R-Ariz. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)

A Tucson man was sentenced to 15 months in prison for threatening Arizona Rep. Martha McSally.

Steve Martan, 58, will serve also face nine years of probation and undergo a mental health evaluation for threatening the Republican congresswoman, Tucson News Now reported.

Arizona’s Special Election Heads to Home Stretch
Both parties watching whether 8th District race will be close

Arizona Republican Debbie Lesko has benefited from significant outside spending in the 8th District special election. (Courtesy Debbie Lesko for Congress)

Rep. Trent Franks resigned in December amid allegations that he sexually harassed female staffers. Next week, no matter which party wins the race to replace the Arizona Republican, a woman will be elected to succeed him.

The April 24 special election in the 8th District pits former GOP state Sen. Debbie Lesko against Democrat Hiral Tipirneni, a cancer research advocate and former emergency room physician. The two could also meet again in November since both intend to file to run for a full term.

Analysis: Trump Numbers Are Up. And Down. But Really Unchanged.
It’s still too early to read too much into recent polling shifts

National surveys of President Donald Trump’s approval and the generic ballot appear to be dramatically changing, but the truth is more complicated than that, Rothenberg writes. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

New national polls show voters are more upbeat about President Donald Trump’s performance and more pessimistic about the Democrats’ chances of taking back the House. Or not.

An April 8-11 Washington Post-ABC News poll showed Trump’s job approval rating at 40 percent, while 56 percent disapproved of his performance.

It’s Trump’s Party Now
As the GOP remakes itself in the president’s image, defectors can’t win

President Donald Trump gestures during his State of the Union address in January as Vice President Mike Pence and Speaker Paul D. Ryan look on. (Win McNamee/Getty Images file photo)

It was once Paul D. Ryan’s party, built on the union of upright Middle American values and America’s competitive advantage in the world.

Now it’s Donald Trump’s — the nationalist, me-first team, willing to compromise on character, foreign policy and free-market economics if it brings a win.

Opinion: When the World of Politics Collides With the Real One
New political forces may impact midterms

The March for Our Lives rally demonstrated that millennials and young people may be a force to be reckoned with in the midterms, Mary C. Curtis writes. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

It is months away from November 2018, but that doesn’t stop predictions not only for the midterms but also for President Donald Trump’s re-election chances in 2020. But while the world of politics is preoccupied with whether a blue wave is inevitable or a figment of hopeful Democrats’ imagination, events outside the bubble might shift the electorate in unpredictable ways.

My Roll Call colleague Walter Shapiro explains, with examples from recent history, how politically fraught these pre-election prognostications can be. It’s also wise to remember how life and politics can be determined by “moments,” despite what consultants who make a living steering candidates and campaigns may say. And right now, America is in the middle of moments that could challenge conventional electoral wisdom.

Senators Again Push Steamboat Exemption Despite Safety Warnings
Ship has taken on outsize significance on Capitol Hill

A group of senators wants to exempt the Delta Queen, a wooden steamboat, to operate as an overnight cruise ship despite safety concerns. (Al Behrman/AP file photo)

A group of senators have quietly inserted into a Coast Guard authorization bill a provision that would allow an old wooden steamboat to operate as an overnight cruise ship despite repeated official warnings that doing so would create a floating fire trap.

The Senate fell four votes short Wednesday of moving forward with the authorization measure. But the issue is not expected to die there.

Young Kim Launches First TV Ad in California’s 39th District
Kim is the first Republican in the crowded race to go on the airwaves

Former California Republican Assemblywoman Young Kim is running for the open 39th District seat. (Thomas McKinless/CQ Roll Call file photo).

Congressional hopeful Young Kim is the first Republican to go on the airwaves in the crowded race for California’s 39th District, launching a television ad Thursday. 

The spot, shared first with Roll Call, highlights the former assemblywoman’s ties to the man she is hoping to replace — retiring GOP Rep. Ed Royce. Kim worked for the congressman for two decades 

Capitol Ink | Bold Prediction

Federal Courts Make Changes in Response to #MeToo Movement
Judicial branch is creating more informal ways to file complaints

James Duff, left, and John Lungstrum testify before the House Financial Services Appropriations Subcommittee on Wednesday. (Courtesy Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts)

A federal court official said Wednesday that a main barrier to reporting sexual harassment and other workplace misconduct in the judicial branch is the “formality of our complaint process,” as well as employees misunderstanding confidentiality provisions in ethics rules and being unaware of protections against retaliation.

James Duff, director of the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts, told a House Appropriations subcommittee that the courts will create more informal ways to file complaints. The judiciary will also take extra steps to educate employees and law clerks about protections against retaliation for reporting misconduct, Duff said. The courts have already revised their confidentiality provisions, he added.

Congress’ Ch-Ch-Changes
Retirements, resignations and deaths around the Capitol

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Congress is going through one of those times when everything seems to be changing, especially the personnel, and that’s not even counting the mounting pile of retirements and resignations among lawmakers. 

Trump, Abe Split on Goal for New Trade Talks
Japanese PM wants U.S. return to TPP; Trump wants ‘one-one-one’ pact

Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe speaks during a press conference on Wednesday with U.S. President Donald Trump at Mar-a-Lago in West Palm Beach, Florida. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

President Donald Trump and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe split Wednesday evening on their goals for a new round of trade talks between the longtime allies, exposing a rift in the alliance.

Abe announced the new U.S.-Japanese trade talks during a joint press conference after the first full day of a mini-summit at Trump’s resort in Florida. But Abe broke with Trump by telling reporters he wants those talks to expand the two countries levels of trade and investment in each other’s markets, and the re-entry of the United States in a trade alliance that includes 11 Asian-Pacific countries.

Senate Changes Rules to Allow Babies on the Floor
Illinois Sen. Tammy Duckworth made Senate history when she gave birth last week

Sen. Tammy Duckworth, D-Ill., made Senate history last week when she gave birth to a daughter. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)

The Senate took a leap forward into modernity Wednesday, changing the rules to allow mothers to bring their infants onto the Senate floor.

Sen. Amy Klobuchar, the ranking Democrat on the Rules and Administration Committee, was among the lawmakers hailing the change, which was adopted by unanimous consent.

‘She Would Love All This Fuss’ — Louise Slaughter Memorialized in the Capitol
Family, colleagues remember a trailblazing, tough and funny member of Congress

Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn., speaks during a memorial service for Rep. Louise M. Slaughter, D-N.Y., in the Capitol’s Statuary Hall on Wednesday. Slaughter, in picture, passed away on March 16 at the age of 88. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

Louise Slaughter dreamed that she would die in the Capitol.

That’s at least according to her daughter, Robin Slaughter Minerva, who spoke during a congressional memorial service for her mother on Wednesday in the Capitol’s Statuary Hall.

Phifer Drops out of Race to Succeed Nolan in Minnesota’s 8th District
Former FBI analyst received most votes at DFL convention but decided against running in primary

Minnesota Rep. Rick Nolan is not running for re-election. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Despite winning the most delegate votes at the Democratic-Farmer-Labor convention for Minnesota’s 8th District on Saturday, Leah Phifer announced Wednesday she will not run in the August primary.

The convention did not result in an endorsement because no candidate received the required 60 percent of the delegate votes.

‘Cardi B is Right’ Says Sen. Bernie Sanders
Sanders promotes Bodak Yellow rapper on supporting Social Security

Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., greets demonstrators while attending a rally on the West Front of the Capitol to call on Congress to act on gun violence prevention during a national walkout by students. The Vermont Senator took to Twitter on saving Social Security Wednesday. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Sen. Bernie Sanders got the attention of the internet for retweeting a Cardi B quote about improving Social Security.

Sanders endorsed the rapper’s statement about former President Franklin Delano Roosevelt in which she praised Roosevelt for starting Social Security.