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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Senate Sends 2,232-Page Omnibus Spending Bill to Trump
Passage follows House action Thursday, the day after text was unveiled

Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul delayed votes on the omnibus to take time to review the legislation, but the Senate finally cleared the spending bill early Wednesday morning. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

The Senate cleared the $1.3 trillion omnibus spending package early Friday, less than 24 hours ahead of what would have been a government shutdown.

Following the 65-32 vote, north of the 60 votes needed for passage, the bill now heads to President Donald Trump for his expected signature.

Ethics Committee Finds Rush, Gutiérrez in Violation
Free office space and misuse of funds at issue

Illinois Rep. Bobby L. Rush is alleged to have accepted free office space in Chicago over the course of two decades, a House Ethics inquiry found. (Scott J. Ferrell/CQ Roll Call file photo)

The House Ethics Committee released two separate findings Thursday involving Illinois Democrats implicated in separate infractions.

The panel found that Rep. Bobby L. Rush has improperly accepted free office space in a Chicago shopping center over the course of two decades, while Rep. Luis V. Gutiérrez used his member’s representational allowance — his congressional office’s set budget — to pay former chief of staff, Doug Scofield, through his communications firm.

Trump Replaces McMaster With Hawkish Bolton
Three-star general will retire from Army this summer

National security adviser H.R. McMaster speaks about the situation in Syria during a discussion at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum on March 15. (Mark Wilson/Getty Images)

Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster is leaving the White House as President Donald Trump brings in his third national security adviser in 14 months amid signals the president is poised to execute a West Wing purge.

A White House official said Trump and McMaster mutually agreed on the resignation. 

At the Races: I Will Survive - The Dan Lipinski Story
Our weekly newsletter on congressional campaigns


This week … general election matchups were set in Illinois, Mississippi got a new senator and California primary fields took shape.

To the Moon and Beyond! — Mission to Mars Funding in Omnibus
Goal is to put an astronaut on the red planet during Trump’s time in the White House

NASA for years has been planning long-range space exploration to the moon and Mars. Back in 2006, NASA Administrator Michael Griffin, Associate Administrator Scott Horowitz, and Constellation Program Manager Jeffrey Hanley discussed the Constellation Program, the space agency’s plan for robotic and human exploration of the moon and Mars. (CQ Roll Call file photo)

President Donald Trump is hoping to land a U.S. astronaut on Mars during his tenure in the White House, and Congress is prepared to continue to back up that mission.

The fiscal 2018 spending bill would provide $1.35 billion in funding for the Orion Spacecraft at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration. The program, which received the same level of funding for fiscal 2017, is aimed at building a vehicle for deep-space travel, including the moon and Mars.

Waiting for an Omnibus to Arrive
Lawmakers show off their acumen for theater on the floor

The Capitol is wrapped up in trying to pass the omnibus this week, the long-delayed conclusion to the fiscal 2018 spending process. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

Welcome to Political Theater, Roll Call’s newsletter and podcast on the spectacle of politics and how it fits, or doesn’t, into the nation’s culture. Subscribe to our weekly newsletter here.

The slow-rolling public health disaster that is the opioid epidemic is finally getting Washington’s attention. Earlier this week, President Donald Trump trekked to New Hampshire to tout his plan to address the crisis and the omnibus spending bill slogging through Congress puts some real money into plans to help those in need. 

House Passes $1.3 Trillion Omnibus Spending Bill, Starting Process to Avert Shutdown
Massive measure was released the night before the vote, so members didn’t have time to read it

Speaker Paul D. Ryan, R-Wis., walks through Statuary Hall on his way to his office after the House voted to proceed with the omnibus funding bill Thursday morning. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

The House on Thursday passed a $1.3 trillion fiscal 2018 omnibus appropriations bill, starting the process for averting a government shutdown and ending government funding by stopgap. 

The vote was 256-167. The bill includes funding boosts for defense that Republicans sought, as well as for domestic programs on the nondefense side of the ledger that Democrats sought. 

Outside Groups See Validation of 2018 Strategy in Lipinski-Newman Race
Allies of both Newman and Lipinski celebrated this week’s close result

First-time candidate Marie Newman, center, narrowly lost a primary to Rep. Dan Lipinski. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

Outside groups that spent on either side of Tuesday’s close Democratic primary in Illinois’ 3rd District are feeling energized by the results as they look ahead to the midterms and beyond.

Seven-term Rep. Daniel Lipinski narrowly defeated first-time candidate Marie Newman on Tuesday in a race that only looked competitive in the final months of the campaign. He finished with 51 percent of the vote to Newman’s 49 percent

Paul Ryan Says He’s Done ‘A Phenomenal Job’ Restoring Regular Order
Speaker blames rushed omnibus process on Democrats, deadlines and a funeral

Speaker Paul D. Ryan says Republicans have done a “phenomenal job” when it comes to restoring so-called regular order to the House. Also pictured, from left, Nebraska Rep. Don Bacon, Wyoming Rep. Liz Cheney and House Republican Conference Chairwoman Cathy McMorris Rodgers. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

Speaker Paul D. Ryan thinks he’s lived up to his promise to open up debate on legislation and restore so-called regular order in the House, blaming the rushed process of the fiscal 2018 omnibus on Democrats, deadlines and a funeral. 

“By and large, we’ve done a phenomenal job,” the Wisconsin Republican said when asked if he feels he’s delivered on the promises he made to House Republicans when taking over as speaker in 2015.

Trump Orders Tariffs on Chinese Goods Over ‘Economic Aggression’
Penalties could cool U.S. president‘s relations with Xi

The flags of the United States and China on a table when the countries’ military leaders met in 2014. On Thursday, President Donald Trump announced tariffs on some Chinese goods. (U.S. Army Photo via Wikimedia Commons)

President Donald Trump intends to slap new tariffs and other penalties on Chinese goods in response to what U.S. officials contend is Beijing’s practice of stealing technology and companies’ information.

Senior White House officials described Trump as giving Chinese leaders months to alter its practices, only to conclude they have no intention of doing so. Officials said the George W. Bush and Barack Obama administrations “worked very hard” to improve trade relations with Beijing, but ultimately had only “failed dialogues” to show for those efforts.

House Narrowly Passes Rule to Begin Debate on Omnibus
Some Freedom Caucus members join Democrats in voting against it

Freedom Caucus Chairman Mark Meadows and former chairman Jim Jordan are leading their group's charge against the omnibus. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)

The House on Thursday narrowly passed a rule to begin debate on the $1.3 trillion fiscal 2018 omnibus appropriations bill, a more-than-2200 page measure GOP leaders had released just the previous night.

Several members of the hard-line conservative House Freedom Caucus joined Democrats in voting against the rule, which set up a single hour of debate and blocked amendments to the bill. The final tally was 211-207. 

DCCC Adds Two Black Candidates to Red to Blue
Women now make up the majority of 33 candidates in program

Texas Democrat Gina Ortiz Jones made the DCCC’s Red to Blue list. (Thomas McKinless/CQ Roll Call file photo)

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee is releasing its fourth round of Red to Blue candidates Thursday. 

The nine latest additions include two African-Americans. The DCCC had been criticized for not including any black candidates on the list so far this cycle.

Judge Tosses Rep. Lujan Grisham’s Restraining Order Against Ex-Intern
Transgender intern claims she was discriminated against and fired

Rep. Michelle Lujan Grisham, D-N.M., obtained a restraining order that was later thrown out against a former intern in her office. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)

One day after Rep. Michelle Lujan Grisham obtained a restraining order against a former intern who worked for her on Capitol Hill, another judge scrapped the order.

Lujan Grisham, who is vacating her seat in New Mexico’s 1st District to run for governor, said she was “fearful” of former intern Riley Del Rey, and said in court documents that she “believes Ms. Del Rey intends to cause her serious harm or her behavior will harm other people in public settings.”

Tenney Blames ‘Deep State’ for Carson Furniture Debacle
HUD secretary would not purchase expensive dining set because he grew up ‘in poverty,’ rep says

Rep. Claudia Tenney, R-N.Y., believes the so-called “deep state” was behind the Ben Carson furniture affair. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

Rep. Claudia Tenney found herself on a rhetorical island again Wednesday after she claimed the so-called “deep state” was responsible for ordering an extravagantly priced dining set for Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson’s office.

“Ben Carson is so misunderstood,” the New York Republican said on a local upstate New York radio show before blaming an unnamed person in the deep state for ordering the furniture.

Curtis Denies Protecting Police Chief Accused of Sexual Misconduct
Provo chief John King was forced out of office last year after he was accused of assaulting a volunteer

Rep. John Curtis, R-Utah, denied knowing about sexual harassment claims against Provo’s former police chief. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Utah Rep. John Curtis is denying charges that he ignored sexual harassment complaints about Provo’s former police chief.

Curtis, who was mayor of Provo before his election to the House last year, sent a statement Wednesday to media outlets in response to a lawsuit filed the day before, according to The Salt Lake Tribune.