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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Meadows, Jordan Ask DOJ to Investigate Rosenstein
Letter alleges Rosenstein threatened to subpoena Republican staffers’ communications

Reps. Mark Meadows, R-N.C., left, and Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, are asking the Department of Justice to investigate Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein. Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Two Freedom Caucus Republicans asked the Justice Department’s inspector general Monday to investigate allegations that Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein threatened to subpoena the email and phone records of House Intelligence Committee staff.

Freedom Caucus Chairman Mark Meadows of North Carolina and caucus co-founder Jim Jordan of Ohio made the request in a letter to Inspector General Michael Horowitz, which alleges Rosenstein threatened the subpoenas in a tense January meeting about oversight requests from committee Republicans.

Russian Spy Indictment an Aftershock to Trump’s Helsinki Statements
Justice Department unveils charges hours after Finland summit

Department of Justice in Washington, D.C. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)

The Justice Department further roiled an already tense Capitol Hill with an indictment Monday accusing an alleged Russian agent of efforts to influence Republican politicians during the 2016 election.

The indictment came on the heels of President Donald Trump’s joint press conference in Finland where, standing next to Russian President Vladimir Putin, he rebuffed the U.S. intelligence community’s conclusion that Russia interfered in the 2016 presidential election.

Analysis: Congress Mere Passenger in Trump Foreign Policy Express
Despite condemnation across the aisle, few efforts under way to alter path

Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., responds to President Donald Trump's meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin on Monday. (Sarah Silbiger/CQ Roll Call)

President Donald Trump just concluded a European foreign policy swing that resembled a runaway car, and Congress is merely a passenger with seemingly no intention, at least from those setting the agenda, of taking the wheel.

Germany is “totally controlled” by Russia. The European Union is “a foe.” And when asked Monday if he thinks Russian President Vladimir Putin and the Kremlin ran an effort to interfere in the last U.S. presidential election, Trump responded: “I don’t see any reason why it would be.”

Trump ‘Insults’ District Residents With Unilateral Court Picks, D.C. Delegate Says
Trump administration wants to nominate D.C. prosecutor to supervisory position

Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC) said Monday that the Trump administration has bypassed her on selections of federal law enforcement officials serving the district. (Sarah Silbiger/CQ Roll Call)

The District of Columbia’s congressional delegate took the Trump administration to task Monday for “refusing to consult with her” on the nominations of a series of federal law enforcement officials who would serve the district.

“The Trump administration continues to ignore the voice and input of D.C. residents when selecting federal officials to serve them,” Eleanor Holmes Norton said in a press release.

Trump's Putin Leniency Suggests Kremlin Has Dirt on Him, Dems Say
If not kompromat, ‘what the heck could it be?’ Schumer asks

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y., on Monday slammed President Donald Trump’s comments made during a summit with Russian President Putin. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

The top Democrats on Capitol Hill responded to President Donald Trump siding with Vladimir Putin over his own intelligence agenices by saying more forcefully the Russian president might have compromising information about him.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., last week suggested Putin might have damaging information about the U.S. businessman-turned-president. On Monday, she went a step further, saying the president’s “weakness” during the Helsinki summit “proves” the Kremlin has something on him.

‘Pathetic Rout,’ ‘Tragic Mistake’ and ‘Painful’ — John McCain Holds Little Back in Describing Helsinki
Senate Armed Services chairman lets loose blistering critique of Trump and Putin meeting

Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., said the damage done by the Trump-Putin summit may be hard to understand. (Chris Maddaloni/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Of all the critical statements issued about Monday’s Helsinki happenings, the one by Senate Armed Services Chairman John McCain perhaps stood out the most, as the Arizona Republican accused President Donald Trump of making a “tragic mistake” in his meetings with Russian President Vladimir Putin and the joint press conference that followed. 

The Republican pulled no punches in his latest verbal fisticuffs with the president, issuing a lengthy statement from Arizona about what may he thinks may be incalculable damage to U.S. foreign policy.

Critics Pan Plan to Publish Congressional Research
Transparency advocates say thousands of documents would be left off website

The Library of Congress’ Thomas Jefferson Building is pictured from the observation area at the top of Capitol Dome. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Government transparency advocates were thrilled last spring when Congress ordered its in-house think tank to publicly release its reports.

Now, groups that lobbied for years to end the secrecy surrounding the Congressional Research Service say the website scheduled to launch in September would leave out crucial documents and cost hundreds of thousands of dollars more than it should.

Trump Takes Putin’s Word for it on Russian Meddling in Elections
Putin says charges against Russians wouldn’t have a ‘fighting chance’ in U.S. courts

U.S. President Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin answer questions about the possible Russian meddling in the 2016 elections during a joint news conference after their summit on Monday in Helsinki, Finland. (Chris McGrath/Getty Images)

Standing alongside Russian President Vladimir Putin, President Donald Trump said Special Counsel Robert S. Mueller’s investigation into Russian meddling into U.S. elections has hurt relations between the U.S. and Russia and has been a “disaster for our country.”

Taking questions from reporters, Putin denied his country had engaged in “so-called interference” and said it had no plans to do so in the future.

Proposals Would Help Homeowners, Make Ex-Presidents Pay for Office Supplies
Financial Services spending bill amendments also could affect local post offices

Rep. Patrick McHenry, R-N.C., wants to bar the U.S. Postal Service for expanding its offering of financial services. Other proposed amendments to the Financial Services spending bill would help homeowners with bad foundations. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Local post offices would be barred from offering most banking services, homeowners with crumbling foundations would get some help and ex-presidents would have to pay for their own office supplies under proposals to amend the House’s fiscal 2019 Financial Services spending bill.

Proposed amendments also include some of the usual suspects: keeping the District of Columbia from enforcing certain local laws, allowing federally insured banks to take deposits from companies in the marijuana industry, and barring federal funds from being spent at properties owned by President Donald Trump.

Republican John Chrin Launches Opening Ad in GOP Targeted District
Chrin is challenging Pennsylvania Democrat Matt Cartwright

Republican John Chrin is challenging Democratic Rep. Matt Cartwright in Pennsylvania’s 8th District. (D.A. Banks/CQ Roll Call)

Republican John Chrin launched his opening argument Monday in his campaign against Democrat Matt Cartwright in Pennsylvania’s 8th District. The seat represents a rare pickup opportunity for the GOP this cycle in which it is largely on defense.  

Republicans, hoping to stave off potential losses in the House, are looking to win in districts like the 8th, one of a dozen held by a Democratic lawmaker that President Donald Trump carried in 2016.  

Lawmakers Condemn Trump Over News Conference With Putin
Republican calls it ‘shameful’ while Democrat says trip was ‘one giant middle finger... to his own country’

President Donald Trump and first lady Melania Trump arrive at Helsinki International Airport on Sunday ahead of Trump’s meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin. (Chris McGrath/Getty Images)

As President Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin left their joint press conference in Monday in Helsinki, Finland, to continue with their slate of meetings, lawmakers back home in Washington sent a resounding rebuke across the Atlantic to the president.

Perhaps loudest in his criticism of Trump was one of the most prominent members of his own party: Arizona Sen. John McCain.

Schumer ‘Blowing a Lifeguard Whistle’ on Increased Kids’ Drowning Rates
Democratic senator says rate of drownings for youngest children is increasing

Sen. Charles E. Schumer wants the CDC to investigate drowning risks to young children. (Sarah Silbiger/CQ Roll Call)

Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer wants answers about an uptick in drowning rates for children under the age of 5.

“When it comes to the dangers of drowning, who is playing the lifeguard? Not the federal government,” Schumer said Sunday. “I’m blowing a lifeguard whistle on the dangerous trend.”

MJ Hegar Outraises Carter in Longshot Bid in Texas
Attributes much of it to introduction video that went viral

The Democratic challenger to Rep. John Carter, R-Texas, out raised him in the most recent fundraising quarter. (Photo By Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

MJ Hegar, who is challenging Texas Rep. John Carter, outraised the incumbent nearly 4-1 in the most recent fundraising quarter, according to Federal Election Commission documents.

Hegar, a U.S. Air Force veteran, announced her campaign raised $1.1 million in the last fundraising quarter while Carter raised $265,725.

Wilson Said He Was Duped Into Suggesting He Supports Arming Toddlers
Sacha Baron Cohen disguised himself as an Israeli anti-terrorism expert to get interviews with GOP lawmakers

Rep. Joe Wilson, R-S.C., says he was was targeted by British comedian Sacha Baron Cohen because of his support for Israel. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Rep. Joe Wilson got the Sacha Baron Cohen treatment Sunday night in a segment on the British comedian’s new show where he tries to convince lawmakers to back a made-up lobbying effort to arm American toddlers.

During a sit-down interview with Baron Cohen, who is well-known for conducting interviews with unwitting suspects while he role-plays as foreign characters with controversial views on race, politics, and sexuality, the South Carolina Republican appeared to suggest he supported the lobbying effort to help “Kinderguardians” by arming preschoolers with guns.

Aaron Schock Trial Now Set for January
Comes as former congressman’s lawyers want Supreme Court to hear appeal

UNITED STATES - JUNE 8: Former Rep. Aaron Schock, R-Ill., appears on the House floor after Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi addressed a Joint Meeting of Congress, June 8, 2016. (Photo By Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)