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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Mueller report’s second act: congressional scrutiny
CQ on Congress podcast, Episode 149

Pages of special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s report on Russian interference in the 2016 election, which was printed out by House Judiciary staffers on Thursday. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

CQ legal affairs reporter Todd Ruger says House Democrats now have plenty of leads from special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s report to investigate, especially as to whether President Donald Trump sought to obstruct justice.

Show Notes:

The Mueller report is exactly as long as Kim Kardashian’s coffee table book
The special counsel and the reality star both love the number 448. The similarities are uncanny

Kim Kardashian is studying to be a lawyer. (JP Yim/Getty Images)

With all of the heated discussion surrounding the release of today’s Mueller report (and I know what you’re thinking, “What Mueller report?”), I can’t help but notice one thing that’s been redacted (see what I did there?) from the conversation: the ungodly amount of pages in this thing.Now, I’d like to wishfully think that minimal paper has been wasted, since the report was delivered on a CD — because today is Thursday, after all, and apparently we’re throwing it back to 1997. But 448 pages? Random, right?

Not so much. It turns out Robert Mueller isn’t the only law enthusiast who’s penned a literary work (of sorts) at this length. 

What happened when I went to a baseball game instead of reading the Mueller report
Some in Washington scrambled. Others spent the day eating Dippin’ Dots

Something happened in Washington on Thursday: the Nats played the Giants. Above, fans pose for photos with George Washington in the stands at Nationals Park in 2017. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)

You didn’t have to venture far from the Capitol on Thursday to find a crowd of Washingtonians who weren’t overwhelmed by the Mueller report.

Patrick Corbin, the newest Nationals star starting pitcher, took the mound a little after 1 p.m., before key Democrats like House Judiciary Chairman Jerrold Nadler or Senate Intelligence Vice Chairman Mark Warner had even weighed in on the substance of the report.

Mueller report shows Trump aides routinely ignored his orders on crucial matters
Special counsel highlights chaotic West Wing where staff tried to save president from himself

President Donald Trump's top aides routinely ignored his orders on crucial legal matters during his first year in office, according to special counsel Robert S. Mueller III. (Alex Wong/Getty Images)

Presidential orders given but often ignored. Ample cursing. Aides working behind the scenes to protect Donald Trump from his own anger and impulsiveness. And an effort to prevent the president from firing special counsel Robert S. Mueller III despite his determination to do so.

Mueller’s long-anticipated report reveals a chaotic West Wing driven by paranoia and frequent outbursts from a green president who wanted to remove the special counsel and demanded that his attorney general, Jeff Sessions, be more like predecessors Robert F. Kennedy and Eric H. Holder Jr., whom he felt “protected” the respective presidents they served, John F. Kennedy and Barack Obama.

Mueller report is a reminder that Russian hack hit House races, too
Talks between the DCCC and NRCC about using stolen information stalled in September

The Justice Department on Thursday released special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s report on Russian interference in the 2016 election. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

Special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s report provided new details Thursday about how Russian agents hacked into Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee computers in 2016, renewing the question of whether the two parties would agree not to use stolen material in future political attacks.

Leaders of the DCCC and the National Republican Congressional Committee came close to such an an agreement in late 2018, but talks broke down.

Democratic 2020 hopefuls aim political firepower on Barr
California’s Eric Swalwell calls for Barr to resign over handling of Mueller report

California Rep. Eric Swalwell has called for Attorney General William Barr to resign. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Democrats looking to succeed President Donald Trump picked up a new target on Thursday: Attorney General William Barr. 

As 2020 candidates continued to read a redacted copy of special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s full report into Russian interference in the 2016 election, it was Barr — as much as Trump — who was in the crosshairs in the hours after the report’s release.

Hey! Robert Mueller relies on CQ
CQ’s transcript service shows up in at least 16 pages of footnotes in Mueller report

Members of the media film a few pages of special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s report on Russian interference in the 2016 election, which was printed out by House Judiciary staffers on Thursday. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

Who are you going to call when you need a transcript for official citation in the Mueller report? Why, CQ, of course.

The highly anticipated report by special counsel Robert S. Mueller III released Thursday spans nearly 450 pages, but tucked in the footnotes of at least 16 of them is text from transcripts that are available through CQ.

One thing Barr didn’t redact: the f-bomb
The attorney general and his team blacked out many a word, but they let obscenities stand

President Donald Trump had some choice words for the special counsel’s Russia investigation, the redacted report reveals. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

The special counsel’s report may be groaning with redactions, but there’s one thing the Justice Department didn’t blot out — profanity.

That’s right, we’re talking f-bombs, bastards and your garden-variety bullshit.

House Democrats press on with investigations after Mueller report release
They’re dissatisfied with how much information was redacted from special counsel’s report

Rep. Adam B. Schiff, chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, still wants “comprehensive testimony from Special Counsel Robert S. Mueller’s Russia investigation. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)

President Donald Trump might be claiming vindication with the release of special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s Russia report, but House Democrats are moving forward with their investigations of him and people in his orbit.

Democrats quickly expressed their dissatisfaction with how much information Attorney General William Barr redacted from the report released Thursday.

Nadler to subpoena the unredacted Mueller report and underlying materials
Judiciary chairman says contrary to public reports he has not heard that DOJ plans to provide a less-redacted version

House Judiciary Chairman Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y., said he will issue a subpoena for the full, unredacted version of the Mueller report and the underlying investigatory materials. (Photo By Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

House Judiciary Chairman Jerrold Nadler is officially issuing a subpoena to obtain the full, unredacted report authored by special counsel Robert S. Mueller III, and the underlying materials used in his investigation.

Just a few hours after the Department of Justice released a redacted version of Mueller’s report to Congress and the public, Nadler said he will issue a subpoena for the full report and investigatory materials. The Judiciary Committee had voted to authorize him to do so earlier this month, and the chairman had said he would if the Department of Justice declined to willingly provide the full report to Congress.

Mueller cites ‘fairness’ in reasons not to decide if Trump obstructed justice
Such an evaluation ‘could potentially result in a judgment that the President committed crimes,’ Mueller wrote

Media films a few pages of special counsel Robert Mueller's report on Russian interference in the 2016 election which was printed out by staff in the House Judiciary Committee's hearing room on Thursday, April 18, 2019. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

Special counsel Robert S. Mueller III lists in his report which of President Donald Trump’s actions his team scrutinized to determine whether the president tried to obstruct justice — enough that they could not rule out that Trump committed a crime.

But Mueller’s team decided they should refrain from deciding whether Trump should be prosecuted because of several factors — including “fairness,” the unique role of the president in government and previous Justice Department opinions that a sitting president could not be indicted.

Trump-Russia collusion: What the Mueller report says — and doesn’t say
Mueller found ‘evidence of numerous links’ between campaign and Russians but not enough to support conspiracy

Pages of special counsel Robert Mueller's report on Russian interference in the 2016 election, which was printed out by staff in the House Judiciary Committee's hearing room on Thursday. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

Special Counsel Robert S. Mueller III uncovered “evidence of numerous links” between Donald Trump campaign officials and individuals with or claiming ties to the Russian government, according to a redacted version of his final report released by the Justice Department on Thursday.

But Mueller declined to charge any of those campaign officials under conspiracy, coordination, or campaign finance laws for their contacts with Russians, because the evidence didn’t reach a prosecutable threshold.

And the award for most laconic Mueller tweet goes to …
Sean Duffy doesn’t have time for 280 characters, and neither does Bobby Rush

Wisconsin Rep. Sean P. Duffy kept it simple Thursday on Twitter. He’d rather be podcasting, an aide said. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)

If you go on Twitter today (which we know you will), you’ll drown in the same tweets highlighting the same quotes from Attorney General William Barr’s press conference ahead of the highly anticipated release of the Mueller report on Russia’s interference in the 2016 election.

You’ll of course also find several members of Congress weighing in on said events, with wordy testimonies within multiple threads — which they are at liberty to do, given the First Amendment and the large platform to First Amendment on. Yes, we just made that into a verb.

Trump takes victory lap on Mueller report: ‘I’m having a good day’
Jubilant president spoke at a Wounded Warrior Project event at the White House

President Donald Trump speaks during a Wounded Warrior Project event in the East Room of the White House on Thursday, the same day the Department of Justice released a redacted version of the Mueller report on Russian interference in the 2016 election. (Mark Wilson/Getty Images)

A jubilant President Donald Trump, eager to shape public opinion about special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s report, declared Thursday that he is “having a good day.”

Why? “It’s called ‘no collusion, no obstruction,’” Trump said during an event with wounded U.S. military personnel, adding that a probe like Mueller’s “should never happen to another president.”

Barr on Mueller report ahead of release: ‘No collusion’
 

Attorney General William P. Barr said at a press briefing Thursday morning that Special Counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s report found no collusion between President Donald Trump’s 2016 campaign and Russian operatives. This declaration echoes the statements Barr made in a March 24 letter to members of Congress that many Democrats criticized, demanding instead to see the full report.