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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Chuck Schumer Seeks Senate Vote on Defending Obamacare
New push by Senate Democrats to respond to Texas judge’s ruling that law is unconstitutional

Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer said Sunday that Democrats will make another push to get the Senate to defend the health care law in court. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Calling the ruling of a Texas federal judge, “awful, awful,” New York Democratic Sen. Charles E. Schumer wants a congressional intervention on behalf of Obamacare.

The Friday night ruling from Judge Reed O’Connor struck down the individual mandate of the 2010 health care overhaul as unconstitutional, and he went a step further in saying that it couldn’t be severed from the rest of the law, meaning it would fall as well. But as a practical matter, the law appears to be remaining in place pending appeals.

Ruling on Health Care Law Leaves Consumers Confused
Law remains in place for now

A pro-health care law demonstrator marches outside of the Supreme Court on the first day of opening arguments that will determine the constitutionality of President Barack Obama’s health care law in 2012. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

The most immediate impact of a ruling striking down the 2010 health care law could be confusion and depressed sign-ups in the law’s insurance marketplaces on the final day of open enrollment.

The law remains in place for now — but some consumers may not understand that.

Amid Corruption Charges, Zinke Is Leaving as Interior Secretary
Trump had expressed concern about allegations against former House member

Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke will be leaving his post at the end of the year. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Updated 12:35 p.m. | Embattled Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke will be the latest senior official to leave the Trump administration after months of being dogged by corruption charges.

President Donald Trump made the announcement on Twitter, saying the former Montana congressman would be leaving his post at the end of the year.

Texas Judge Strikes Down 2010 Health Care Law
Law is unconstitutional without “individual mandate” penalty, judge rules

Supporters of the 2010 health care law rally outside the Supreme Court in June 2015 as they await a court decision related to the law. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)

A federal judge late Friday struck down the 2010 health care law, siding with a group of conservative states that argued the law is unconstitutional after Republicans in Congress eliminated a key part of it.

Judge Reed O’Connor, of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Texas, sided with Texas and the other states, saying the law cannot stand without the so-called individual mandate to get coverage, which Republicans effectively ended as part of a 2017 tax overhaul . Texas and its partner states argued that the requirement was not severable from the rest of the law and sought an injunction beginning in 2019.

Donald Trump Names Mick Mulvaney Acting Chief of Staff
OMB director will replace John Kelly at the end of the year, on an interim basis

OMB Director Mick Mulvaney will take over as acting White House chief of staff. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

President Donald Trump announced Friday that Office of Management and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney will be the acting White House chief of staff, starting in the new year.

“Mick has done an outstanding job while in the Administration,” Trump tweeted. “I look forward to working with him in this new capacity as we continue to MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN! John will be staying until the end of the year. He is a GREAT PATRIOT and I want to personally thank him for his service!”

Kevin McLaughlin Returns to the NRSC as Executive Director
McLaughlin served as the committee’s deputy executive director in 2016

Incoming NRSC Chairman Todd Young, R-Ind., is welcoming a new committee executive director, Kevin McLaughlin. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Kevin McLaughlin is returning to the National Republican Senatorial Committee as its new executive director, Chairman Todd Young announced Friday.

McLaughlin was the committee’s deputy executive director for the 2016 cycle, when Young was elected to the Senate in Indiana, and he served as a senior adviser in the 2014 cycle. Like 2016, Republicans are largely on defense in 2020. Twenty-two GOP senators are up for re-election compared to 12 Democrats.

Papadopoulos Confirms Plan to Run for Congress
Former Trump campaign aide recently served time in prison

Former Trump campaign adviser George Papadopoulos, here arriving for a closed-door hearing at the House Judiciary and Oversight committees on Oct. 25, says he plans to run for Congress. (Alex Wong/Getty Images file photo)

George Papadopoulos, a former Trump campaign aide who recently served time in prison, confirmed Friday that he does plan to run for Congress.

“It is true. I will be running for Congress in 2020, and I will win,” Papadopoulos tweeted Friday. “Stay tuned.”

Harassment Claim Arrived at California DOJ Months Before Sen. Kamala Harris Left
According to lawsuit, longtime Harris aide demeaned his executive assistant

UNITED STATES - JANUARY 23: Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., arrives in the Capitol for the Senate Democrats' policy lunch on Tuesday, Jan. 23, 2018. (Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., expressed surprise and frustration when reports first surfaced last week that a longtime aide had settled allegations of gender discrimination last year — attributing her lack of awareness to a “breakdown” in communication.

Defeated GOP Rep. Bruce Poliquin Calls for Recount to End
Maine Republican still has concerns about state’s ranked-choice voting system

Rep. Bruce Poliquin, R-Maine, lost his re-election to Democrat Jared Golden. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

Rep. Bruce Poliquin called Friday for the recount in his 2nd District to end. The Maine Republican initially requested the recount following his apparent loss to Democrat Jared Golden

Poliquin lost his race as part of the state’s new ranked-choice voting system for congressional races. Voters rank their choices in order of preference. If no candidate receives a majority, the last place candidate’s votes are distributed to his or her supporters’ second choice. The process of elimination continues until a candidate gets majority support.

Louise Slaughter Receives Posthumous Snub From Rep. Chris Collins in Post Office Renaming
Late New York representative encouraged investigation into Collins’ finances

Rep. Chris Collins, R-N.Y., talks with reporters after a meeting of the GOP Conference at the Capitol Hill Club on April 17, 2018. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Rep. Chris Collins indirectly continued his feud with late colleague Louise Slaughter by declining to co-sponsor a bill that would rename a post office in New York after the congresswoman who died in March.

Collins, a Republican, is the only member of the New York delegation not to co-sponsor the post office renaming bill.

Capitol Hill Broadcasters Compete in RTCA Runoff
Jason Donner, Ben Siegel and Kelsey Snell elected to committee, fourth position to be decided next week

Broadcast journalists on Capitol Hill will vote in a runoff on Dec. 19 for the final position on the Radio-Television Correspondent's Association. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

Runoff elections aren’t just for Mississippi and Louisiana — radio and television correspondents on Capitol Hill will vote in a runoff on Dec. 19 for the final position on the Radio-Television Correspondents Association.

Members of the RTCA, the primary organization promoting access for broadcasters on Capitol Hill, voted Thursday to elect the group’s executive committee. Seven candidates ran to fill four vacancies.

Senators Think Former U.S. Olympics CEO Lied to Congress
Moran and Blumenthal make referral for possible prosecution

Sens. Jerry Moran and Richard Blumenthal have referred a former USOC chief for possible prosecution. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

The leaders of a Senate subcommittee investigating the Olympic sexual abuse scandal has now referred a former head of the U.S. Olympic Committee for possible prosecution.

Kansas GOP Sen. Jerry Moran and Connecticut Democratic Sen. Richard Blumenthal think USOC CEO Scott Blackmun may have lied to Congress as part of his testimony before their Commerce Subcommittee on Consumer Protection, Product Safety, Insurance and Data Security.

Why We’re Not Releasing 2020 Race Ratings Yet
Relax people, enjoy the holidays

I love elections, particularly congressional races, but I’m just not in a hurry to jump to 2020. And I’m completely fine with holding off on releasing our race ratings until next year.

Arizona Republican Defies Whole House on Plea for Jailed Journalists
Andy Biggs has voted consistently on issues concerning international jurisdictions

Rep. Andy Biggs was the only vote against a resolution condemning the jailing of Reuters journalists in Myanmar. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Fully 394 members of the House voted Thursday for a resolution calling for the release from jail of two Reuters reporters imprisoned in Myanmar on charges that are widely viewed as fraudulent.

One member of Congress voted against it.

Rohrabacher Mulls Starting Consulting Firm With Fired Aide
Paul Behrends was ousted from Foreign Affairs Committee after Russian contacts revealed

Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, R-Calif., is telling friends that he plans to form a consulting firm in Maine, according to recent reports. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)

In his next act, California GOP Rep. Dana Rohrabacher might form a consulting firm with a former top aide linked to the controversial private security firm Blackwater and figures at the center of Robert S. Mueller’s Russia investigation.

Rohrabacher, ousted from his 48th District seat by voters last month, told senior staff members that he plans to create a consulting business called R&B Strategies with Paul Behrends after the current session of Congress ends, the Wall Street Journal reported.