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 to Address Afghanistan Strategy Monday Night
Reports: President leaning toward keeping 4,000 U.S. troops there

President Donald Trump will make an announcement on Afghanistan on Monday night. (NICHOLAS KAMM/AFP/Getty Images)

President Donald Trump will address U.S. military forces Monday evening about his new plan for the country’s nearly 16-year-old war in Afghanistan.

As a candidate and president, Trump often has maligned the George W. Bush and Barack Obama administrations for spending trillions too much in military operations overseas since the 9/11 attacks.

GOP Leadership Silent on Bannon’s Departure
Many House and Senate Republicans ignore White House chaos

House Speaker Paul Ryan, left, and Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, right, often avoid addressing controversy surrounding the presidency of Donald Trump. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Almost two hours after news broke Friday that President Donald Trump decided to part ways with White House chief strategist Steve Bannon, House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy  — at least at that moment — had another topic on his mind.

He retweeted a message that the chief executive sent out Friday morning, before Bannon’s ouster was reported, about elevating the country’s Cyber Command. McCarthy called it “the right move.”

Trump Is Quickly Running Out of GOP Factions to Alienate
Republican strategist: ‘He’s basically crossing out all of his allies’

President Donald Trump’s ouster of White House chief strategist Steve Bannon is seen by some as his first major slight to his conservative base. (SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images)

President Donald Trump is running out of Republican Party factions to offend and alienate after firing Steve Bannon, the White House chief strategist who was a bridge to the president’s conservative base.

Along with Friday’s blow to his base, a defensive and sometimes erratic Trump in the past few weeks alone has attacked once-supportive business leaders, GOP lawmakers and voters eager to distance themselves from far-right and white supremacist protesters in Charlottesville, Virginia. He’s also lashed out at Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, a key player in any effort to push forward his legislative agenda.

Opinion: Corker Silent on Trump Renomination
Republicans may end up pushing him toward the exit

Sen. Bob Corker’s office had nothing to say when asked if the Tennessee Republican will support President Donald Trump’s renomination in 2020, Allen writes. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Senator Bob Corker said Thursday he doesn’t think President Donald Trump has demonstrated “stability,” “competence,” or understanding of “the character of this nation.”

Normally, that would be a stunningly personal attack for a senator of one party to launch against a president of the other party. But Corker and Trump are both — at least in name — Republicans.

Democrats Say Bannon’s Ouster Not Enough
Jeffries says ‘things won't change if Grand Wizard remains in Oval Office’

Democrats say the ouster of White House adviser Steve Bannon is a good first step. (Nicholas Kamm/AFP/Getty Images)

Democrats are glad President Donald Trump’s chief strategist Steve Bannon is gone,  but they say change is needed from the top down.

Democratic members of Congress hammered the president for choosing Bannon, the former Breitbart executive, to plot strategy in the White House in the first place. And they said if the president wants to repair the damage he has done, he should look inward.

White House: Steve Bannon Is Out
President’s chief strategist increasingly a lightning rod for criticism

Steve Bannon is out as  chief strategist to President Donald Trump. (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images file photo)

President Donald Trump has decided to part ways with White House chief strategist Steve Bannon. The former Breitbart executive infused his campaign and presidency with nationalist rhetoric and policies.

“White House Chief of Staff John Kelly and Steve Bannon have mutually agreed today would be Steve’s last day,” Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said in a statement. “We are grateful for his service and wish him the best.”

Pelosi Pledges to Use ‘Every Avenue’ Against Trump
House Democrats file censure of president over Charlottesville response

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi praised a resolution filed by House Democrats that aims to censure the president. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi pledged on Friday to use “every avenue” to challenge President Donald Trump after three House Democrats filed a resolution condemning how the president responded to the violent protests in Charlottesville, Virginia.

The censure resolution denounces Trump for not immediately and specifically condemning neo-Nazi and white nationalist groups who took part in the protest and then doubling down on his comments days later, saying some of the far-right protesters were “very fine people.”

Trump Says ‘Obstructionist Democrats’ Undermining National Security
President sends mixed messages before leaving for Camp David security summit

President Donald Trump, here aboard the USS Gerald R. Ford in March, lashed out at Democrats over what he says is their intent to "delay" his national security policies. (Mark Wilson/Getty Images file photo)

Donald Trump began the last workday of yet another chaotic week of his presidency by accusing Democrats of hindering the country’s security — while also sending some mixed signals.

About 90 minutes before his scheduled departure for a Camp David summit with his national security team on North Korea and related issues, the president took to Twitter with contradictory messages about the state of American security.

Florida Republican Rooney Says Trump Needs to Show ‘Moral’ Leadership
Says past presidents have ‘referred to our moral principles’

Rep. Francis Rooney, R-Fla., said past presidents have used a unifying and healing tone in times of crisis. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Florida Republican Rep. Francis Rooney said the country is “crying out” for moral leadership from President Donald Trump after last weekend’s racial violence in Charlottesville, Virginia, and Trump’s response to it.

Rooney, a former U.S. ambassador to the Vatican and a devout Catholic, told the Naples Daily News that previous presidents used a unifying and healing tone after similar incidents.

Rohrabacher to Consult With Trump Before Sharing Wikileaks Info
Said he and Assange discussed Wikileaks getting a seat at White House briefings

Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, said he will consult with President Donald Trump on Wikileaks information on the DNC hacking last year “by the end of the month.” (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)

California Republican Rep. Dana Rohrabacher said he will consult with President Donald Trump about “earth-shattering” information he got from WikiLeaks about the Democratic National Committee hack before going public.

The Republican representative said he met with Wikileaks founder Julian Assange at the Ecuadorian Embassy in London and said Assange denied that Russia was involved with the hacking of the Democratic National Committee.

For Bobby Scott, a District Carved in Calm
Virginia Democrat takes business-as-usual approach, absent political rhetoric

Virginia Rep. Robert C. Scott speaks to attendees at a town hall in Norfolk on Monday. (D.A. Banks/CQ Roll Call)

NORFOLK, Va. — At a recent town hall here in Virginia’s second most populous city, Rep. Robert C. Scott patiently took questions from more than two dozen residents waiting in line. The queue stretched to the very back of a high school auditorium with some standing for the entire portion of the two-hour public meeting.

Absent was the rancor that has dominated town halls across the country this year — mostly those held by congressional Republicans facing angry crowds, upset over changes the GOP wants to make to the 2010 health care law and expressing steadfast opposition to Donald Trump’s presidency.

Budget and Appropriations Members Rack Up Travel Time
Boots on the ground or paid vacation?

Staff travel makes up a significant chuck of the amounts spent on travel by the Appropriations and Budget committees. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Members of the Budget and Appropriations committees have spent about $2 million on foreign travel since the start of 2016, including trips to Argentina, Tanzania, Italy and the United Kingdom, according to an analysis of congressional records.

Appropriations Committee members far outpace their colleagues on the Budget Committee in the number of trips and how much they've spent on travel outside the United States. From Jan. 1, 2016 through March 31, 2017, Appropriations Committee members and staff spent $1.9 million on foreign travel and Budget Committee members and staff spent $36,000.

Trump Lacks ‘Stability’ and ‘Competence’ for Job, Corker Says
Foreign Relations chairman warns of ‘great peril’ unless Trump changes

Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., lambasted President Trump on Thursday. The duo is pictured above in happier times, at a Trump campaign rally in North Carolina in July 2016. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Senate Foreign Relations Chairman Bob Corker on Thursday lambasted Donald Trump, saying the president is driving the United States toward “great peril” because he lacks the “stability” and “competence” for the country’s highest office.

The Tennessee Republican once appeared on stage at a Trump campaign rally, but it any goodwill he might have built with Trump likely evaporated Thursday. The president, as he did with a Twitter attack earlier in the day on Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., often attacks any critics — and holds grudges.

Poll: Majority of Americans Say Trump’s Charlottesville Response ‘Not Strong Enough’
Two-thirds of respondents want a domestic terrorism investigation

A majority of Americans see President Donald Trump’s response to the racial violence in Charlottesville, Va., as inadequate. (Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

A majority of Americans in a new poll say President Donald Trump’s response to the violence that broke out a white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia was “not strong enough.”

Fifty-two percent of respondents in the NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist poll said Trump’s response should have been stronger, while 27 percent said it was strong enough.

Trump: Country Being ‘Ripped Apart’ Over Confederate Monuments
President says beauty will be “greatly missed” and can’t be replaced

Police stand in front of protesters as President Donald Trump’s motorcade departs Trump Tower on Wednesday in New York City, amid the continued fallout from his comments on the racial violence in Charlottesville, Va. (Spencer Platt/Getty Images file photo)

President Donald Trump said the history and culture of the United States was being “ripped apart” by the removal of statues and monuments to Confederate leaders across the country.

Trump’s early Thursday tweets came after his earlier remarks that there were “very fine people” on both sides of a protest last weekend in Charlottesville, Virginia, where white nationalists and neo-Nazi groups violently clashed with counter-protesters over the removal of a statute of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee.