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-Gillibrand Offer Possible 2020 Preview After Racy Tweet
Schumer: Trump’s ‘tweet was nasty — unbecoming of the president’

Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, left, and New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand leave a Democratic Conference lunch in the Capitol in May. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

House and Senate Republicans raced to finish their tax bill. Both parties postured about a government shutdown. All of that was drowned out Tuesday by President Donald Trump’s Twitter war with Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand.

The president went after the New York Democrat with a Tuesday morning tweet that alleged she “would do anything” for his campaign contributions before he ran for president. 

Minnesota Governor to Announce Senate Appointment Wednesday
Senator Al Franken still hasn't said when he's resigning

Minnesota Sen. Al Franken, seen here leaving the Capitol on Dec. 7 with his wife Franni after announcing he’d resign last week, hasn’t set a date for his resignation. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton on Wednesday will announce his selection to fill the seat of Sen. Al Franken, who has yet to set a date for his resignation. 

Dayton has been expected to appoint Lt. Gov. Tina Smith, his former chief of staff, to the seat. She’d have the option of running next fall to fill out the rest of Franken’s term, which is up in 2021. 

Senate Republicans Prepare Tax Counteroffer
House sent over proposal Monday evening

Texas Sen. John Cornyn says negotiations with the House on the tax overhaul are sensitive. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

Senate Republicans are preparing to send the House what they hope will be the final version of the GOP tax bill.

While the two chambers now agree on several areas on which their bills once differed, senators said discussions are still fluid.

Alabama Senate Race Heads to Dramatic Finish
Still unclear which candidate will win

Alabama Republican Roy Moore rides away on his horse after voting at the Gallant Volunteer Fire Department in Gallant, Ala., on Tuesday. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

GALLANT, Ala. — Capping the wild ride of the Alabama Senate race, Roy Moore made his traditional trek to the polls on horseback.

The Republican candidate was greeted by a horde of reporters and cameras as he rode to the fire station here on his white and brown horse with his wife Kayla, who was also riding her horse.

Jones Bested Moore in Alabama Fundraising Under National Spotlight
But both received majority of large-dollar donations from out of state

Democrat Doug Jones, center, accompanied by New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker and Alabama Rep. Terri A. Sewell, waves to supporters as he arrives for a canvass kickoff rally at his campaign field office in Birmingham, Ala., on Sunday. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

Alabama Democrat Doug Jones received almost a quarter of his $3.2 million itemized donations from within the state between Oct. 1 and Nov. 22, according to records newly released by the Federal Election Commission.

That’s more than the Senate candidate’s opponent, Republican Roy Moore, who netted 20 percent of his $861,000 itemized contributions from within the state during the same period of time. 

Democrats Won’t Support Another Stopgap, Hoyer Says
… Even if it’s clean

House Minority Whip Steny H. Hoyer cited several bills that Republicans have yet to get through Congress. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Democrats will not support another clean continuing resolution that would allow Republicans to continue shirking their governing responsibilities, House Minority Whip Steny H. Hoyer said Tuesday.

The Maryland Democrat named several “must pass” bills Republicans have yet to get through Congress, including reauthorizations of the Children’s Health Insurance Program, Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, and the National Flood Insurance Program, as well as the next disaster supplemental and legislation providing a path to legal status for immigrants brought illegally into the country as children.

With Tax Deal in the Works, Questions Turn to Timing
Deal could be announced as early as Tuesday, with votes next week

Capitol Hill was relatively calm Tuesday morning, as Washington braced for the results of the Alabama Senate election and timing on a vote on tax overhaul and spending is in flux. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

Capitol Hill was relatively calm Tuesday morning, even as the timing on two big-ticket items — voting on a tax overhaul package and what to do about year-end spending questions — hung in the air unresolved and the nation remained fixated on Alabama’s special Senate election, where voting is underway.

House Republicans meeting as a conference at the Republican National Committee headquarters said there was no specific timeline for voting on the tax package, as the formal conference committee is set to meet, perhaps for the only time, Wednesday.

Dogged By Sexual Misconduct Claims, Farenthold Slogs Ahead in Texas
Texas GOP delegation remains tight-lipped about support of congressman’s fifth-term bid

Rep. Blake Farenthold, R-Texas, has carried on his re-election campaign amid a sexual misconduct controversy. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

Rep. Blake Farenthold signaled Monday he intends to slog ahead with his re-election campaign against the storm of sexual misconduct claims against him, the Texas Tribune reported.

The fourth-term Lone Star State Republican, 56, will face a crowded GOP primary to keep his 27th District seat, with five challengers declaring they’ll take him on.

Transgender Woman Said Lujan Grisham’s Office Discriminated Against Her
Says she was fired from her internship when it was learned she was transgender

A former intern said Rep. Michelle Lujan Grisham, D-N.M., fired her for being transgender. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)

A former intern said she was fired from New Mexico Democratic Rep. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s office for being transgender.

Riley Del Rey told the Santa Fe New Mexican she was fired from the Democrat’s office almost three years ago and is speaking now because she has seen a number of stories about sexual harassment but transgender voices are missing.

Trump Says Gillibrand ‘Would Do Anything’ for Campaign Donations
Gillibrand fires back: ‘You cannot silence me’

President Donald Trump speaks to the media before departing the White House last week. (Mark Wilson/Getty Images)

Updated at 9:45 a.m. | President Donald Trump on Tuesday alleged that Democratic Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand “would do anything” for his campaign contributions before he ran for president. 

In a morning tweet, the president dubbed the New York Democrat a “lightweight” and dubbed her “disloyal” to the Clintons, whom he tweeted “USED!” her.

Corrine Brown Petitions to Stay Out of Prison During Appeal
Former congresswoman sentenced earlier this month to five years on fraud conviction

Former U.S. Rep. Corrine Brown walks out of the federal courthouse in Jacksonville, Florida, last week after being sentenced to five years in prison on fraud and conspiracy charges. (Bob Mack/Florida Times-Union via AP)

Former Florida Rep. Corrine Brown is seeking to stay out of prison while she appeals her convictions on fraud and conspiracy charges.

The disgraced Florida Democrat was sentenced to five years in prison earlier this month and was given until Jan. 8 to surrender to the Federal Bureau of Prisons.

The Alabama Senate Race: A Religious Experience
Both campaigns tap into religious networks to turn out voters

Alabama Democrat Doug Jones speaks, flanked, from left, by Selma Mayor Darrio Melton, former Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick and Alabama Rep. Terri A. Sewell, outside the Brown Chapel AME Church in Selma, Ala. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

GALLANT, Ala. — At Roy Moore’s home church here on Sunday, there wasn’t much talk of the upcoming Senate election — even though throngs of cameras waited outside to catch a glimpse of the elusive Republican candidate.

After the Sunday service began at Gallant First Baptist Church, Rev. Tom Brown offered a prayer.

Some GOP Senate Candidates Follow Party’s Evolution on Moore
Like McConnell, candidates moved away from calling on Ala. Republican to step aside

Indiana Rep. Todd Rokita said he’d be “comfortable” with Alabama GOP Senate nominee Roy Moore in the Senate. He previously suggested Moore should drop out. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

While many sitting Republican senators — including Alabama’s own Richard C. Shelby — have continued to criticize Roy Moore, a few candidates who’d like to join them in the Senate have taken a more measured tone leading up to Tuesday’s election.

In several cases, that warmer embrace (or less forceful rejection) of the Alabama GOP Senate nominee is a change in tone from their previous public statements.

GOP Candidates Who Stand With Roy Moore
Four 2018 hopefuls attended Alabama Republican’s rally Monday night

Texas Rep. Louie Gohmert was the only lawmaker at Senate candidate Roy Moore’s rally Monday night in Midland City, Ala. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

MIDLAND CITY, Ala. — Most Republican lawmakers have shunned Roy Moore. And top GOP candidates have ducked questions about him. But four 2018 hopefuls traveled to Alabama on Monday to show their support.

These candidates are backing the former state Supreme Court chief justice even after allegations surfaced that he inappropriately pursued — and in two cases assaulted — teenage girls when he was in his 30s. Moore still has the support of President Donald Trump and former White House adviser Steve Bannon, and this small cohort of GOP primary candidates looking to take on the party establishment.

Analysis: McConnell Enters Year-End Sprint With Options Limited
Promises made to GOP senators could come back to haunt him

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has made many deals to get the Senate GOP tax bill through the chamber, and that might limit his options in the homestretch. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is hoping to close out 2018 with a bang and silence the skeptics who just a few short months ago were ramping up calls for his ouster following a brutal defeat on the Republican effort to overturn the 2010 health care law.

But after creating an intricate web of promises to get the GOP tax legislation past the Senate, the Kentucky Republican must now juggle the difficult task of keeping those commitments.