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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House GOP Farm Bill Passes; Compromise With Senate Next
Senate bill expected on the floor next week

House Agriculture Chairman K. Michael Conaway says the farm bill vote was about “providing certainty” to struggling farmers and ranchers. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)

The House on Thursday passed, 213-211, the Republican-written farm bill that seeks to restructure the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, a month after a stinging defeat when the legislation became embroiled in an unrelated battle over immigration legislation.

The vote “was about providing certainty to farmers & ranchers who have been struggling under a 5yr recession & about providing our neighbors in need w/ more than just a hand out, but a hand up,″ House Agriculture Chairman K. Michael Conaway wrote on Twitter after the bill passed. There was no floor debate.

Vote on Compromise Immigration Bill Further Delayed Until Next Week
GOP lawmakers seek additional changes to the measure

House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif.,Speaker of the House Paul Ryan, R-Wisc., and House Majority Whip Steve Scalise, R-La., participate in the House GOP leadership press conference after the House Republican Conference meeting in the Capitol on Wednesday, June 6, 2018. (Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

House Republican leaders are further delaying a vote on a compromise immigration bill, planning to make changes to the legislation for a vote next week.

The measure was originally scheduled for a vote Thursday evening. GOP leaders had decided early that afternoon to push it off until Friday because members still had questions about the contents of the bill. But the disarray extended well beyond confusion over the bill

House GOP Immigration Drama and Intrigue Mushrooms
Confusion over bill leads to delayed vote as blame casting begins

Speaker Paul D. Ryan, R-Wis., leaves his office on Thursday, June 21, as House Republicans struggle to find support for an immigration bill. (Sarah Silbiger/CQ Roll Call)

The House Republican Conference was in disarray Thursday over immigration as GOP leaders delayed a key vote on a compromise bill and members began to cast blame for the measure’s predicted defeat.

The events escalated a drama that had begun Wednesday as GOP leaders struggled, yet again, to unite their fractured conference.

‘Zero Tolerance’ Remains in Effect as First Lady Visits Migrant Kids
POTUS says one thing about prosecutions, newspaper another, DOJ something else

First lady Melania Trump smiles after signing a welcome poster made for her at the Upbring New Hope Childrens Center operated by Lutheran Social Services of the South and contracted with the Department of Health and Human Services June 21, 2018 in McAllen, Texas. (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

The White House policy prosecuting all adults who enter the United States illegally remains in place even if they arrive with children, President Donald Trump said as his wife defiantly toured a southern border detention center.

Trump defended the “zero tolerance” policy at the conclusion of a Cabinet meeting at the White House amid confusion about the status of the program and the fates of detained migrant families.

At the Races: The Fight for the Forgotten Borough
Our weekly newsletter on congressional campaigns

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Welcome to At the Races! You can keep track of House and Senate races with this weekly newsletter by subscribing here. We want to hear what you think. Email us at attheraces@cqrollcall.com with your questions, tips or candidate sightings. —Simone Pathé and Bridget Bowman

Government Reorg Plan Greeted Without Fanfare
Key members of Congress seemed unaware of details as White House plan was released

The Office of Management and Budget, led by Director Mick Mulvaney, released a sweeping reorganization proposal on Thursday. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

The Trump administration’s proposal to reorganize the federal government won’t likely be moving to the top of the Senate agenda anytime soon.

“This effort, along with the recent executive orders on federal unions, are the biggest pieces so far of our plan to drain the swamp,” Office of Management and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney said of the proposals. “I am eager to work with my colleagues across the executive branch and in Congress to deliver a more trusted and efficient government that puts the American taxpayer first.”

House Rejects Conservative Immigration Bill, Delays Consideration of Compromise
Goodlatte-sponsored bill goes down as leaders look to round up support on second measure

Rep. Bob Goodlatte, R-Va., followed by Rep. Ann Wagner, R-Mo., leaves Speaker Paul D. Ryan’s offices on Thursday, June 21, 2018, as House GOP leadership tries to find a path to pass immigration legislation. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

The House on Thursday rejected, 193-231, an immigration bill conservatives favor, as GOP leaders delayed a vote on a compromise immigration bill moderate Republicans prefer. 

The vote on final passage of the compromise measure, originally scheduled for Thursday evening, is being moved to Friday to provide more time to answer members' questions about the bill, GOP aides confirmed.

Supreme Court Overturns 1992 Sales Tax Ruling
Decision will ripple through the economy, lawmakers and business groups say

The Supreme Court overturned a 26-year-old tax ruling on Thursday, citing online sales. (CQ Roll Call file photo)

A divided Supreme Court on Thursday accomplished something that Congress couldn’t in the past 26 years — overturn a 1992 ruling that barred states from collecting sales tax from out-of-state vendors.

Business groups and lawmakers expect the decision to reverberate throughout the economy, affecting online retail giants, small businesses and brick-and-mortar stores, and that could build pressure for congressional action.

Uncertain Immigration Votes Set in House
Chances of either bill passing looked even slimmer after Trump tweeted Thursday morning

Rep. Mark Walker, R-N.C., left, and Rep. Bob Goodlatte, R-Va., talk as they leave the House Republican Conference meeting on June 13. The House will consider a bill backed by Goodlatte on Thursday. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

After weeks of huddled negotiations, House Republicans on Thursday will attempt to bridge a longstanding intraparty divide and pass immigration legislation that would protect so-called Dreamers from deportation and bolster President Donald Trump’s enforcement and border security agenda.

The House will vote on two bills, both of which are long shots to pass given that no Democrats plan to support them and Republicans are split. The measures face crucial tests around lunchtime, when the House will vote on the rules for both. If Republicans don’t unite at least on those votes, one or both bills could die before coming up for a vote final passage.

Poll: McSally Leads by Double Digits in Arizona Senate Primary
Republican representative opens up big lead against Ward, Arpaio

Rep. Martha McSally, R-Ariz., leads in the GOP primary race for Sen. Jeff Flake’s senate seat. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Rep. Martha McSally has opened up a big lead in the Republican primary to replace retiring Arizona Sen. Jeff Flake, according to a poll released Wednesday.

The poll shows McSally leading the race by a 14-point margin over her two Republican opponents, former Arizona state senator Kelli Ward and former Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio.

Ryan Doesn’t Know If House Republicans Can Pass Any Immigration Bill
Two bills the House is voting on Thursday are expected to fail

Speaker Paul D. Ryan is not sure the House can pass any immigration bill. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

Speaker Paul D. Ryan acknowledged on Thursday that he’s not sure if House Republicans can pass any immigration bill, even as the chamber was poised to begin voting on two such measures. 

“I don’t know the answer to that question,” the Wisconsin Republican said when asked if there’s any legislative solution on immigration that could unify the GOP conference, which is divided on many issues but particularly immigration. 

Wall Street Regulator Coddles Big Banks but Clobbers Small Firms
Lenient treatment from the SEC leaves misconduct unchecked

Protesters call for higher taxes on big banks in 2012. (Neilson Barnard/Getty Images file photo)

JPMorgan Chase, the nation’s largest financial services firm, has paid $28 billion to settle cases brought by federal agencies in the past 10 years, most of them related to the 2008 financial crisis.

Yet the massive fines extracted from banks like JPMorgan for their role in the Wall Street meltdown have done little to deter other types of misconduct in the decade since, and one reason is lenient treatment from the Securities and Exchange Commission, according to our analysis of SEC enforcement records with a Georgetown University law professor.

Congressional Women’s Softball Is No Dry Affair
Game provides a respite from the daily travails in the Capitol

Members of the Press team interact with Speaker Paul D. Ryan before the softball game against members of Congress Wednesday June 20, 2018. (Sarah Silbiger/CQ Roll Call)

The spectacle of politics and how it fits, or doesn’t, into the nation’s culture. Subscribe to our newsletter here.

In baseball, “Bull Durham,” teaches us, “Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose and sometimes it rains.” In softball, the Congressional Women’s Softball Game teaches us, “Sometimes, you win, sometimes it rains, and you always raise money for a good cause.” And so the 10th annual slugfest is in the books, with a 5-0 victory by the Bad News Babes press team over the members of Congress. 

This Time, Trump Undercuts Both House GOP Immigration Bills
President: ‘What is the purpose’ of chamber’s votes if Senate Dems oppose both?

Speaker Paul D. Ryan escorts President Donald Trump to the House Republican caucus meeting in the Capitol basement on Tuesday. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

President Donald Trump, the leader of the Republican Party, Thursday morning gave already skeptical House GOP members even less incentive to support either immigration bill set for floor votes later in the day.

Conservatives are skeptical of a compromise measure crafted largely by Republican leaders during talks with the conference’s various factions. And moderates have long had heartburn about a conservative measure.

Rep. Lee Wants UN to Investigate Family Separation
Calls Trump’s executive order reversing policy ‘a sham’

Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Calif., called on the United Nations to investigate the conditions of detention facilities where children separated from their families are being housed. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)

California Rep. Barbara Lee has asked the United Nations to investigate the impact of President Donald Trump’s policy of separating families at the U.S-Mexico border.

In a letter to U.N. Secretary General Antonio Guterres, Lee asked the organization to send humanitarian observers to the border, ABC7 reported.