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 Should Not Resign Over Allegations of Sexual Misconduct, Jones Says
Democratic senator-elect from Alabama committed to working on ‘the real issues’

Alabama Sen.-elect Doug Jones says President Donald Trump should not step aside due to years-old allegations of sexual misconduct. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Sen.-elect Doug Jones agreed with the White House that President Donald Trump should not step aside due to years-old sexual misconduct allegations that have resurfaced after they were a linchpin issue dogging the president during his 2016 campaign.

“I don’t think the president ought to resign at this point,” Jones said on the Sunday morning news show circuit. “We’ll see how things go, but certainly those allegations are not new, and he was elected with those allegations at front center.”

McCain Back in Arizona Until January
Absence comes as GOP prepares for vote on tax bill

Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., is seen in the senate subway before a vote in the Capitol on Dec. 6. (Photo By Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

Sen. John McCain returned to Arizona this weekend to receive therapy related to his cancer treatments as Republicans prepared a major vote for their tax overhaul bill.

A statement released Sunday from Dr. Mark Gilbert, chief of neuro-oncology at the National Institutes of Health’s National Cancer Institute, said McCain responded well to treatment he received for a viral infection.

Trump Says GOP Will Do ‘Well’ in 2018
‘I said Gillespie and Moore would lose,’ president tweets

Roy Moore rides away on his horse after voting at the Gallant Volunteer Fire Department in Gallant, Ala., on Dec. 12. President Donald Trump says he predicted Moore’s loss. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

Updated at 9:01 a.m. | In the wake of Democrat Doug Jones’ stunning upset over Roy Moore in Alabama’s special Senate election, President Donald Trump on Monday used a tweet to tout the Republican Party’s performance this year in House races.

Trump last week referred to himself as “the leader of the party” — something he rarely does. He used a tweet Monday morning to imply that the GOP should listen to his prognostications about which potential candidates can and cannot win general election races.

Senate Tax Positions Prevail in Conference, House GOP Doesn’t Care
Concerns muted amid political imperative to achieve a legislative victory

Senate Finance Chairman Orrin G. Hatch, R-Utah, left, and House Ways and Means Chairman Kevin Brady, R-Texas, led negotiations on the GOP tax overhaul conference committee. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

The tax overhaul conference report looks a lot like the Senate bill. Senate negotiators prevailed on most of the major issues — and House Republicans say they’re fine with that.

House Republicans interviewed for this story said they will support the final product despite it being very different from the one they voted on in November, with reasons ranging from specific provisions they championed to the overall benefits of the sweeping package.

How Did the President Get Along With Congress in 2017? We Measured, Using His Tweets
Trump both praises and complains about Congress, sometimes on the same day

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President Donald Trump came into office with two chambers of Congress controlled by his own party. So it’s not surprising he got his way on almost all the votes he took a position on — a fairly typical barometer of a president’s legislative success.

But there’s another metric we can use almost exclusively for this president to measure his relationship with Congress: his Twitter account.

House Democrats Face Tough Choices in Judiciary Panel Race
Nadler and Lofgren vie for top spot amid party’s soul-searching

Rep. Zoe Lofgren of California, left, and Jerrold Nadler of New York are vying to be the top Democrat on the Judiciary Committee. (CQ Roll Call)

Two experienced Democratic lawmakers with contrasting styles are vying to become the ranking member of the House Judiciary Committee, and the vote this week could signal much more than just who will press the party’s agenda on the panel.

The choice of Rep. Jerrold Nadler of New York or Rep. Zoe Lofgren of California will reveal much about the Democrats’ long-term strategy for a key committee as it deals with the tumult of President Donald Trump’s administration, the special counsel investigating his campaign, threats to civil rights and a reckoning of allegations of improper sexual behavior sweeping through Capitol Hill.

What Former Congresswomen Learned From Running
Edwards: ‘Women have to stop waiting to be asked and just step up and do it’

Left to right, Nydia Velazquez, Eva Clayton, Carolyn Maloney and Barbara Kennelly are seen at a reception for new women members at freshman orientation in 1992. (Laura Patterson/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Since Donald Trump’s presidential campaign and election, there has been a major push to get more women to run for Congress. And it’s paid off — the number of women who have filed for or are planning to run for office is at an all-time high, according to a study from Rutgers University’s Center for American Women and Politics.

Some women who served in Congress want those political hopefuls to know exactly what they’re in for.

Pennsylvania Democratic Candidate Accused of Inappropriate Conduct
Daylin Leach running in Pennsylvania’s 7th District

Daylin Leach, Democratic candidate for Congress from Pennsylvania. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

Former staffers have accused Pennsylvania state Sen. Daylin Leach, a top candidate in the race to take on GOP Rep. Patrick Meehan, of inappropriate comments and touching, according to the Inquirer.

The Inquirer reported Sunday that Leach made inappropriate sexual comments, which he said were in jest, and touched some women inappropriately. He denied any wrongdoing.

Facing Harassment Allegations, Ruben Kihuen Won’t Run for Re-election
Nevada freshman had been seen as rising Democratic star

Nevada Rep. Ruben Kihuen won’t seek a second term. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Nevada Rep. Ruben Kihuen announced on Saturday he would not seek re-election in 2018 — a day after the House Ethics Committee announced it has opened an investigation into the freshman Democrat.

Two women have accused Kihuen of sexual harassment. He maintained his innocence in his retirement announcement.

Landmark GOP Tax Bill Poised for Final Passage
Measure may pass through both chambers before Christmas

Senate Finance Committee chairman Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, left, and Ways and Means chairman Rep. Kevin Brady, R-Texas, have steered a tax bill that would be the the first major tax overhaul in 30 years. (Photo By Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

Republicans late Friday unveiled their final plan to overhaul the tax code, a sweeping measure that aims to lower taxes on businesses and individuals, open up parts of Alaska to oil drilling and roll back a key piece of the 2010 health care law.

The massive measure is likely to pass both chambers early next week. Momentum for the landmark package grew throughout the day Friday, capped off with a surprise announcement from Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., that he would back the final bill after opposing a previous version.

Virginia Democrat Bobby Scott Accused of Sexual Harassment
Former Congressional Black Caucus Foundation fellow previously backed out of a press conference

Rep. Bobby Scott, D-Va., has been accused of sexual harassment. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

A former fellow with the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation on Friday accused Virginia Rep. Robert C. Scott of sexually harassing her.

M. Reese Everson, who worked in Scott’s office during her fellowship in 2013, made the accusations during a press conference. 

GOP Tax Bill Signed, Nearly Sealed and Delivered

Senate Finance Chairman Sen. Orrin G. Hatch, R-Utah, left, and House Ways and Means Chairman Rep. Kevin Brady, R-Texas, conduct the Senate-House Conference Committee meeting on the GOP tax bill. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

Republican tax writers signed off Friday on a compromise plan to overhaul the tax code, bringing House and Senate negotiations to a close and setting up final votes on the legislation early next week.

The tax conference agreement was set to be released Friday at 5:30 p.m. Some key details are already known, like a proposed corporate tax rate of 21 percent; a top individual rate of 37 percent; and a 20 percent deduction for “pass-through” business income.

House Ethics Panel Launches Investigation Into Ruben Kihuen
Two women have accused Kihuen of sexual harassment

Two women have accused Rep. Ruben Kihuen, D-Nev., of harassment. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

The House Ethics Committee announced Friday that it has opened an investigation into Rep. Ruben Kihuen. Two women have accused the Nevada Democrat of sexual harassment. 

Kihuen had said he would welcome an Ethics investigation.

Photos of the Week: Jones Wins in Alabama, Tax Conference Gavels In
The week of Dec. 11 as captured by Roll Call’s photographers

Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi arrive for a news conference in the Capitol on Wednesday. They spoke out against the Republican tax plan ahead of the Senate-House conference committee meeting. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

Top Democratic Candidate Drops Out of Kansas Race After She Faced Sexual Harassment Allegations
Ramsey had been endorsed by EMILY’s List and was a top potential challenger

Andrea Ramsey is dropping her House bid. (Courtesy of the Andrea Ramsey for Congress Facebook page)

Democrat Andrea Ramsey dropped out of the race to take on Kansas GOP Rep. Kevin Yoder, after sexual harassment allegations surfaced against her — and, she claimed, national Democrats abandoned her campaign. 

Ramsey announced she was pulling out of the race Friday, in a lengthy statement denying that she engaged in any harassment or retaliation against a former colleague. The Kansas City Star first reported Ramsey's decision, which came after the outlet approached her about a 2005 lawsuit involving a male subordinate.