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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Kaptur Exploring Legislative Reprieve for Ousted House Chaplain
Ohio Democrat said any legislation she proposes would be bipartisan

House Chaplain Patrick J. Conroy performs a marriage ceremony in 2015 for Alaska Rep. Don Young and Anne Garland Walton in the chapel of the U.S. Capitol. (CQ Roll Call file photo)

Rep. Marcy Kaptur does not believe Speaker Paul D. Ryan has authority to remove House Chaplain Patrick J. Conroy without a vote of the House. And she’s exploring legislation to prevent his ouster. 

Conroy submitted a letter of resignation April 15 at the speaker’s request that was read on the House floor the following day. Ryan’s spokeswoman AshLee Strong confirmed that Ryan sought the Jesuit priest’s resignation but did not provide a reason why. 

Rosendale Releases His First TV Ad in Montana Senate Primary
GOP candidate takes a page from Tester, showcases flattop haircut

Montana State Auditor Matt Rosendale is launching his first ad in the GOP Senate primary Friday. (Screenshot)

Montana State Auditor Matt Rosendale’s first TV ad in the GOP Senate primary is airing Friday.

The ad features Rosendale’s wife giving him a haircut in their kitchen. The message? He’s cheap.

Bipartisan Letter to Ryan Seeks More Information on Chaplain Resignation
Speaker’s office to receive letter Friday

House Chaplain Patrick J. Conroy, is expected to resign in May. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

A bipartisan letter requesting additional information circulated for signatures Thursday after reports surfaced that Speaker Paul D. Ryan pushed for House Chaplain Patrick J. Conroy to resign.

“The sensitive nature of this situation requires a description of the process followed to arrive at the decision and a justification for that decision,” wrote the letter’s author, Virginia Democratic Rep. Gerald E. Connolly.

Senate Panel Sends Message By Advancing Mueller Bill
A warning to Trump even if special counsel protections don’t become law

The Senate Judiciary Committee approved a bill to provide job protection for special counsel Robert S. Mueller III, but it faces major obstacles. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)

The Senate Judiciary Committee approved a bill Thursday to give protections to Special Counsel Robert S. Mueller III, which senators said sent a message to President Donald Trump even if it has major hurdles to ever becoming law.

Although the 14-7 vote on the measure split Republicans, the message from the committee to Trump was clear.

Menendez ‘Severely Admonished’ Over Gifts From Dr. Melgen
Should close the book on Senate action related to ethics scandal

Sen. Robert Menendez, D-N.J., was admonished by the Senate’s Ethics Committee on Thursday . (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

The Senate Ethics Committee has “severely admonished” Sen. Robert Menendez for improperly accepting gifts from South Florida ophthalmologist Salomon Melgen.

In a letter, the Ethics panel directed the Democrat from New Jersey to pay for all improper gifts that have not already been reimbursed. The panel of three Democrats and three Republicans noted that some reimbursement had already been made.

Name-Brand Food, Security and Voting Machine Funding Sought in House
Top officials testify before Legislative Branch Subcommittee

Paul Irving, left, House Sergeant at Arms, is pictured in the Capitol Visitor Center. Irving gave testimony at the House budget hearing Tuesday. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

This year’s budget request for the U.S. House of Representatives showed a few changes in the works for Capitol Hill, including heightened security, more brand-name food options, and new voting machines.

The House Appropriations Legislative Branch subcommittee hosted a hearing Tuesday where top officials testified about funding requests stemming from their departments.

Ryan Pushed House Chaplain Father Conroy to Resign
Some members questioning speaker’s decision

Father Patrick J. Conroy, left, consoles Rep. Debbie Dingell, D-Mich., center, as Rep. Richard Hanna, R-N.Y., looks on at the conclusion of a vigil and moment of silence on U.S. Capitol Steps on Monday, June 13, 2016, in remembrance of victims of the Orlando shooting. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Last week Speaker Paul D. Ryan sent out a press release announcing Father Patrick J. Conroy would step down as House Chaplain in May with a statement of kind words for the priest.

Now it’s come to light that Ryan pushed Conroy to resign, and some members are questioning why.

At the Races: Is Lesko’s Win in the Desert a Mirage?
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EMILY’s List Looks to Boost California Candidates
The group endorsed 6 women candidates in California

Protesters hold signs along Independence Avenue in Washington during the Women’s March on Washington on Jan. 21, 2017, one day after President Donald Trump’s inauguration. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)

EMILY’s List is looking to bolster its candidates in California as the crowded primaries threaten Democratic chances in key pickup opportunities.

The group’s independent expenditure arm, Women Vote!, announced Thursday that it was launching a new initiative to educate voters about former Riverbank mayor Virginia Madueño, who is running in the 10th District in the Central Valley. The program is similar to one launched for Sara Jacobs last month, who is running in the 49th District in southern California.

Reporters’ Kids Grill Ryan, Pelosi at Weekly Conference
Leaders embrace Take Our Daughters and Sons to Work Day

Speaker Paul D. Ryan, R-Wis., poses with children of reporters following his weekly press conference during Take Our Daughters and Sons to Work Day on Thursday, April 26, 2018. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

Speaker Paul D. Ryan and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi fielded fewer reporter questions than usual during their weekly press conferences Thursday so they could interact directly with the congressional press corps’ kids.

“Welcome to all our junior members of the press,” Ryan said, telling the kids, “It’s great that you get to come here and see what your parents do every day.”

How Vulnerable is Deb Fischer in Nebraska?
Race still ‘Solid Republican’ at this point

The burden of proof is still on Democrats to demonstrate that a challenge to Sen. Deb Fischer, R-Neb., is a serious takeover opportunity, Nathan L. Gonzales writes. (Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

Nebraska has been dubbed a “sleeper” Senate race and rated as competitive by some handicappers. House Democrats just came close to winning a special election in a congressional district President Donald Trump won by 21 points, so how vulnerable is GOP Sen. Deb Fischer?

At a minimum, the senator faces a spirited challenge from Lincoln City Council member Jane Raybould. But the perception that Nebraska is a legitimate Democratic takeover opportunity seems to lean on the proclamation that no Republican seat is safe and limited public polling. Other evidence, including previously unreleased polling from the Fischer campaign, paints a different picture of the race.

GOP Rep. Brian Mast Gets Pro-Gun Primary Challenger
Florida congressman flipped on firearms after Parkland shooting, defying GOP and gun lobby

Rep. Brian Mast, R-Fla., got a pro-gun primary challenger Wednesday. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Rep. Brian Mast will face off against a pro-gun primary challenger in November, just months after the first-term congressman flipped to support a host of gun control measures after the February school shooting in Parkland, Florida.

Physician Mark Freeman is re-upping his 2016 campaign this November with a pledge to “defend the Second Amendment” and be an “unwavering partner” to President Donald Trump, he said Wednesday in a press release to the Broward County Sun-Sentinel.

Senate Confirms Pompeo With Split Among 2018 Democrats
Final vote came immediately after the Senate limited debate

CIA Director Mike Pompeo won confirmation as secretary of State on Thursday. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

The Senate easily confirmed Mike Pompeo to be the next secretary of State on Thursday, but Democrats in the most competitive 2018 races delivered a split decision on the current CIA director.

The chamber confirmed Pompeo to the top diplomatic post, 57-42, after an identical vote to limit debate on the nomination.

Blackburn, Himes Spar Over Diamond and Silk, Social Media at Judiciary Hearing
Democrats criticize Republicans for pushing ‘hoax’ of anti-conservative bias in social media filtering algorithms

Rep. Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn., testified before the House Judiciary Committee about censorship on social media platforms. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

Reps. Marsha Blackburn and Jim Himes could not be farther away from each other on the issue of social media content algorithms.

Blackburn, a Tennessee Republican running for Senate this November, testified Thursday in front of the House Judiciary Committee that today’s social media titans — Facebook, Google, and Twitter — all deploy algorithms that appear to filter out conservative voices, hurting pro-Donald Trump content creators like the popular YouTubers Diamond and Silk (who also testified on Capitol Hill Thursday).

Lamborn Turns to Federal Court to Get Back on Ballot
Comes after Colorado Supreme Court ruled that he didn’t qualify

Rep. Doug Lamborn, R-Colo., is appealing to keep his name on the ballot. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

Colorado Rep. Doug Lamborn is heading to federal court to get his name back on the ballot for the Republican primary after the Colorado Supreme Court knocked it off.

Colorado’s Supreme Court ruled on Monday that Lamborn was not eligible for the ballot.