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.

Get breaking news alerts and more from Roll Call on your iPhone or your Android.

Is Beto O’Rourke the Next Jon Ossoff?
Democrats can’t seem to help falling for white, Southern men in unlikely races

Democrat Beto O’Rourke historic fundraising numbers set off alarm bells in the GOP that the Texas Senate race was not one to be ignored, Murphy writes. Above, O’Rourke arrives for a rally in Lockhart, Texas, on Oct. 1. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)

OPINION — There have been so many glowing profiles of Beto O’Rourke, the Democratic Senate hopeful in Texas, that there is a running joke  among journalists about the ingredients for a perfect O’Rourke piece. The short version goes something like this: He looks like a Kennedy! He’s got tons of cash! He’s a Democrat in a Red State! Let’s do this thing!

The one detail that’s almost always missing in those profiles is reality — namely, the fact that O’Rourke could run a perfect race against Sen. Ted Cruz and will still probably lose based solely on the fact that far more Republicans are likely to vote in Texas this November than Democrats. Although twice as many Texans (about 1 million) voted in the Democratic primary this year compared to 2014, 1.5 million votes were cast in the Republican primary. Even as the state’s demographics are changing, the math for Texas Democrats still doesn’t look good.

Could Republicans in Competitive Districts Pursue NRCC Top Job?
NRCC head has usually been someone who can travel, fundraise for others

California Rep. Mimi Walters may be interested in chairing the NRCC if the position is open. First, she has to win re-election in November. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)

With many Republicans conceding their poor prospects of holding the House next month, attention outside the conference is beginning to turn to who will helm its campaign committee for the next cycle. 

Ohio Rep. Steve Stivers, who’s running for a fifth term in a safe Republican seat, is the current chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee. It’s not uncommon for there to be turnover at the end of a cycle, and it’s largely understood Stivers is unlikely to remain in charge should the GOP lose its majority.

Menendez, Pompeo Feud Over Diplomatic Nominees
Secretary of state accuses New Jersey Democrat of “putting our nation at risk”

From right, Senate Foreign Relations ranking member Robert Menendez, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, and Senate Foreign Relations Chairman Bob Corker arrive for a hearing on July 25. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

A tiff between New Jersey Sen. Robert Menendez and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is slowing down the confirmation of nominees for the nation’s diplomatic corps, already understaffed at a time of mounting global challenges.

Menendez, the ranking Democrat on the Foreign Relations Committee, is objecting to some State nominees over their qualifications even as he continues to press Pompeo to fulfill long-standing oversight document requests.

‘Treason’ Accusation Punctuates Heated Arizona Senate Debate
Democrat Sinema condemns Republican McSally for smear tactics

Rep. Martha McSally, R-Ariz., faces Democratic Rep. Kyrsten Sinema in the Arizona Senate race. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)

One of the most contentious moments of the Arizona Senate debate Monday night involved Republican Martha McSally accusing Democrat Kyrsten Sinema of “treason,” bringing a more predictable back-and-forth to a dramatic end.

Over the course of the hourlong debate — their only scheduled one — the two congresswomen running to succeed retiring GOP Sen. Jeff Flake split over health care, immigration, and the Supreme Court’s newest justice. Sinema stressed that she would be independent of her party, while McSally touted the accomplishments of GOP-controlled government.

At Debate, Spanberger Reminds Brat He’s Not Running Against Pelosi
Democrat is challenging two-term Republican in Virginia’s 7th District

Rep. Dave Brat, R-Va., and Abigail Spanberger, his Democratic challenger in Virginia’s 7th District, shake hands Monday after a debate at the Germanna Community College in Culpeper, Va. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

At her first and likely only public debate with Virginia Rep. Dave Brat on Monday, Democrat Abigail Spanberger felt the need to remind the Republican congressman that he is running against her, and “certainly not” against House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi.

“Abigail Spanberger is my name,” the Democratic challenger in Virginia’s 7th District said to punctuate her closing statement.

Former Senate Intelligence Committee Security Chief Pleads Guilty
James A. Wolfe admits to one count of making false statements to FBI

James A. Wolfe, right, seen here with Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, pleaded guilty to one count of making false statements. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

The former head of security for the Senate Intelligence Committee has pleaded guilty to one charge of making false statements to the FBI.

The guilty plea, which was announced by the Justice Department on Monday, comes along with a commitment by the government to move to dismiss related charges.

Chuck Grassley and Dianne Feinstein Again Sparring Over Judicial Nominations Schedule
Argument about October nomination hearings could be Kavanaugh fallout

Senate Judiciary Chairman Charles E. Grassley and ranking member Dianne Feinstein are once again sparring over the judicial confirmation process. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Even with senators having left the Capitol, the battle over the pace of judicial nominations is not slowing down.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California, the ranking Democrat on the Judiciary Committee, led panel Democrats in protesting the scheduling of nomination hearings for federal judgeships while the Senate is holding only pro forma sessions.

Police Investigate ‘Ricin Letter’ at Sen. Susan Collins’ Home
Maine GOP senator was not at home when authorities arrived

Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, was not at home in Bangor when the authorities arrived to investigate a suspicious letter. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

Updated 8:53 p.m. | Republican Sen. Susan Collins will be able to spend Monday night at her residence in Bangor, Maine, after a suspicious letter was received by her husband there.

“Senator Collins’s husband, Tom Daffron, today received a threatening letter that the writer claimed was contaminated with ricin, a highly hazardous substance which was used in a previous attack against the United States Senate,” Collins spokeswoman Annie Clark said in a statement.

Trump Vows to Test Warren DNA Himself If Senator Becomes 2020 Opponent
‘That will not be something I’ll enjoy doing, either’

Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., questions Comptroller of the Currency Joseph M. Otting, during a Senate Banking Committee hearing in Dirksen Building titled “Implementation of the Economic Growth, Regulatory Relief, and Consumer Protection Act,” on October 2, 2018. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

President Donald Trump now says he wants to personally test the DNA of Sen. Elizabeth Warren if she becomes his Democratic opponent in 2020.

Trump said Monday that he does not owe $1 million to charity after the Democratic senator from Massachusetts’ DNA test results pointed to at least a sliver of Native American ancestry.

Democrats Double Down After Eight Years Defending Health Care Law
Issue now tops for Democrats in 2018, report finds

The U.S. Capitol building is seen behind two ambulances Friday, June 15, 2018. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Democrats have devoted half their advertising spending in midterm races to health care, according to a report released Monday from a left-leaning group that seeks to protect provisions of Barack Obama’s signature 2010 law. 

The survey of recent polling and advertising spending from Protect Our Care underscore a theme that has emerged across the country as Democrats attempt to shift the narrative on 2010 health care law. After eight years of fending off GOP attempts to “repeal and replace” the provisions of Obamacare, Democrats now see their support of the law as one of their biggest strengths. 

Trump PAC Spends More Defending Texas House Seat Than Any Race This Cycle
America First Action has spent $2.6 million to help longtime GOP Rep. Pete Sessions keep his seat

Rep. Pete Sessions, R-Texas, speaks with reporters as he leaves the House Republican Conference meeting in the Capitol on Tuesday, Jan. 9, 2018. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

The top super PAC aligned with President Donald Trump is releasing another ad Tuesday in Texas’ 32nd District, where longtime GOP Rep. Pete Sessions is facing arguably his toughest test for re-election yet against Democrat Colin Allred.

America First Action, the super PAC promoting candidates who support the president’s agenda, has sunk $2.6 million into defending Sessions’ seat. That’s the most the PAC has spent on any race this cycle.

Tuesday Is the Voter Registration Deadline in These States
For Maryland and D.C. residents, it’s the last day to register online

The midterm elections are approaching fast and many voter registration deadlines have already passed. (Chris Maddaloni/CQ Roll Call)

If you live in one of 18 states and haven’t registered to vote, you’ve already missed your chance to cast a ballot in the midterm elections on Nov. 6.

Other deadlines are fast approaching. Virginia residents, get your postmarks going. Monday is the last day you can register online, in person or by mail.

As Donald Trump Tours Hurricane Michael Damage With Him, Rick Scott Announces Plan to Skip Campaign Events
Sen. Bill Nelson continuing to survey hurricane damage, as well

President Donald Trump makes a flyover as he tours the devastation caused by Hurricane Michael on October 15, 2018 in Mexico Beach, Florida. The hurricane hit the Florida Panhandle as a category 4 storm causing massive damage and claimed the lives of at least 17 people. (Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

With millions and millions of dollars being spent, Florida’s Senate race may keep dominating the airwaves, but both candidates themselves have been spending more of their time on recovery from Hurricane Michael.

Florida First Lady Ann Scott announced in a video message that she would be stepping in on behalf of her husband, GOP Gov. Rick Scott, on the Senate campaign trail indefinitely.

Stick With Senate Farm Bill or Extend Existing Law, Groups Say
Agriculture committee staffers in both chambers continue to work on compromise

Senate Agriculture Chairman Pat Roberts, R-Kan., and ranking member Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., helped push through their farm bill that passed the chamber on an 86-11 vote. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Unless key farm bill negotiators use the Senate version as the template for a new bill, an extension of the now expired 2014 farm law would be better than using the House farm bill as the basis for a conference report, representatives from nutrition, environmental, small farmer and food policy groups said Monday.

At a briefing, the organizations said the House and Senate farm bills differ sharply in important areas. While they want a new bill to replace the farm law that expired Sept. 30, the organizations say they represent a broad coalition that would oppose a bill based on the House farm bill version, which calls for changes, including to farm payments and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program.

Breaking the Midterm Mode: Both Parties Make it About Trump
2018 provides yet another departure from political norms

Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., is among the Democrats whose re-election prospects could be hurt by the nationalizing of the midterms, Rothenberg writes. (Sarah Silbiger/CQ Roll Call file photo)

ANALYSIS — For decades, the rule of thumb for campaigns during midterm elections has been the same: When the president is popular, the president’s party tries to nationalize the election, and the opposition attempts to localize it. On the other hand, when the president is unpopular, his party’s nominees try to localize while the opposition tries to make the election a national referendum on his performance. Perhaps not surprisingly, 2018 has broken that mold.

Both sides are trying to nationalize the November election.